Throughout Europe, many children are placed in detention centres, deprived of their liberty. Children are not adults and have their own particular needs and rights. It is commonly admitted that the deprivation of liberty should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In addition, the ultimate aim of detention is rehabilitation: one must therefore work towards the child's reinsertion into society.
However, in many countries, concerns have been raised regarding the conditions and treatment of children deprived of liberty (from ill-treatment to lack of efficient complaint mechanisms and inadequate educational programs, staff not being properly trained, lack of contact with family and relatives, use of solitary confinement, etc.).
Several international human rights institutions conduct monitoring visits to detention facilities - including juvenile detention facilities and police cells - with the aim of supervising (living and procedural) conditions of detention as well as preventing torture and other human rights violations. At the European and UN levels, they are the following:
• The CPT (the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment);
• The SPT (the United Nation's Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture);
• The NPM under the OPCAT (the National Prevention Mechanisms under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture);
• The CAT (the UN Committee against Torture).
Practical guidelines do exist and are used by these organizations when visiting detention centres for adults. At the national level, some independent bodies or people may also visit places where children are deprived of their liberty (ombudspersons, parliamentarians, NGOs, philosophical advisors, lawyers, etc.). However, no guidelines exist for properly monitoring living as well as detention conditions of children deprived of liberty.
Yet, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, "a child has the right to special protection given her/his vulnerability and special needs" (art. 37 and 40). Based on this, international human rights law includes specific standards for children in detention. Thus, when it comes to visiting places where children are deprived of their liberty, special criteria and precise methodology must be taken into account by trained inspectors:
• Special conditions must be guaranteed due to the vulnerability and special needs of children and in particular of girls;
• Different techniques apply when interviewing children;
• Special multidisciplinary procedures (pedagogical, psychological, etc.) must be applied in order to properly assess the situation of the child;
• The child's reinsertion into society.
Currently there is no harmonized criteria in Europe for the assessment of the situation of children deprived of liberty. The lack of basic criteria jeopardizes adequate coordination and harmonization of practices between existing monitoring bodies at the international, national and regional levels. It also hampers obtaining comparable information on the actual situation of these children and the strength of these mechanisms. This leads to the misuse of existing resources in critical situations for preventing and addressing human rights violations.