Every year, as many as seven million children can be found in places of detention, such as penal facilities, migrant detention centers, or psychiatric hospitals. For a study commissioned by the Secretary General of the United Nations, our researchers undertook to establish the scale of this phenomenon and draft recommendations for mitigation efforts.

The 2016–2019 UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty research project, headed by Professor Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert for the United Nations, sought to comprehensively examine the situation of children (defined as anyone under 18 years of age) deprived of liberty in six specific circumstances:

  1. Administration of justice
  2. Children living in prisons with their primary caregivers
  3. Migration-related detention
  4. Institutions
  5. Detention in the context of armed conflict
  6. Detention on national security grounds

For each of these areas, the study assessed the scale of the phenomenon, identified good practices (e.g. measures offering an alternative to the deprivation of liberty), and formulated relevant recommendations for legislators and public policy makers. The study drew on the lives of 274 children from all over the globe, who suffered some form of deprivation of liberty—their stories and experiences became a starting point for the identification of key challenges before the international community.

Truly international in character, the project involved over 150 researchers from all continents—lawyers, human rights activists (from the Human Rights Watch, among others), public and children’s health experts, migration and armed conflict scholars, and others. The project staff included Dr. Łukasz Szoszkiewicz from the Chair of Constitutional Law, who served as the data analysis coordinator. Dr. Szoszkiewicz oversaw a small team of statisticians, sociologists, and lawyers, coordinating data collection and normalization, and the formulation of statistical models that could be used for the purpose of assessing the scale of the deprivation of liberty worldwide.

The study drew, first and foremost, on dedicated questionnaires, submitted by a total of 92 countries. For data on the rest of the world, the researchers looked to data collected by international organizations (such as the UNHCR and UNICEF, among others), as well as datasets submitted by individual states under the reporting procedure to UN treaty bodies. The sheer diversity of locations covered by the study required the development of new statistical models for each area separately. The model drew on a range of solutions and methods, including regression models, the MICE algorithm (an iterative method of data imputation), and the random forest algorithm.

The study results were compiled into a report presented to the UN General Assembly in 2019 (A/74/136), which was later published in a significantly expanded form, supplemented with detailed analysis of individual issues. The monograph was also enriched with a number of infographics and excerpts from interviews with children who have experienced deprivation of liberty. Selected portions of the study were also used to develop a massive open online course (MOOC) designed for students and children’s rights activists. Several smaller research projects currently underway, funded by the Global Campus of Human Rights academic network, headquartered in Venice, and the Right Livelihood Foundation, continue the lines of inquiry first put forward by the team working under Prof. Manfred Nowak. One of these projects is being carried out at our Faculty under Dr. Szoszkiewicz.

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