Children in detention lack adequate health care, report finds

Concept of refugees. Silhouette mother with child refugee near a fence at sunset.

February 29, 2024 – Children living in detention typically have a host of health problems—including high rates of mental illness, trauma, high-risk substance abuse, chronic disease, and neurodevelopmental disabilities—but lack adequate health services in places where they’re detained, according to a new report.

The report, produced by a team of researchers from Australia’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Justice Health Group at Curtin University, and the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, analyzed health care standards for children who are deprived of their liberty, in order to shine a light on one of the most neglected areas in the protection of children, according to a February 12 FXB press release.

Using research from around the world, including from Australia, the U.S., and France, the report looked at standards in six types of detention scenarios, including children in juvenile justice facilities, children living in prisons with their primary caregiver, migration-related detention, deprivation of liberty in institutions, detention in the context of armed conflict, and detention on national security grounds.

Researchers identified important gaps and ambiguities regarding the current international standards for health care for children in detention.

“Over seven million children across the world are in prison or other institutions where they are denied their liberty every year,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Center director of research, in the FXB release. “Available evidence suggests that many of these children are denied access to the health are to which they are legally entitled, often with serious and long-lasting consequences.” Bhabha noted that the new report “highlights a set of grave rights violations which call for urgent rectification.”

Read the FXB release: Research report analyzes healthcare standards for children deprived of their liberty in effort to support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Read the report: Ensuring the Highest Attainable Standard of Health for Children Deprived of Their Liberty

Photo: Shutterstock/Prazis Images