Children in detention are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and should be released

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

13 August 2020
Les enfants en detention
UNICEF/2014/Rindra Ramasomanana

NEW YORK, 13 April 2020 – “Hundreds of thousands of children currently detained in countries around the world are at grave risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Many are being held in confined and overcrowded spaces with inadequate access to nutrition, healthcare and hygiene services – conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19. An outbreak in one of these facilities could happen at any moment.

“Detained children are also more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and gender-based violence, especially if staffing levels or care are negatively impacted by the pandemic or containment measures.

“Across the globe, children are in the juvenile justice system including in pre-trial custody, held in immigration detention or on other administrative grounds, detained in relation to armed conflict,  national security or activism, or living with parents in detention. These children and those at risk of contracting the virus due to underlying physical and mental health conditions should be released.

“We call on governments and other detaining authorities to urgently release all children who can safely return to their families or an appropriate alternative. Such alternatives include extended families, other family- or community-based care.

“UNICEF also calls for an immediate moratorium on new admissions of children to detention facilities.

“UNICEF and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, along with leading child rights organizations, academics and UN agencies have released guidance on key actions authorities can take to protect children deprived of their liberty during the pandemic. UNICEF stands ready to assist authorities in preparing to release children, including through identifying safe conditions.

“The rights of children to protection, safety and wellbeing must be upheld at all times, even and especially during crises like the one the world faces today. The best way to uphold the rights of detained children amidst a dangerous pandemic is their safe release.”


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Fanja Saholiarisoa
Communication Officer
UNICEF Madagascar


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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