An unusually high percentage of adolescents detained as a result of last August’s riots in Great Britain are still being held prior to sentencing, and the United Nations Childrens Fund (Unicef) has warned that this may put the UK in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
According to the Guardian, as of mid-September, there were 269 children under the age of 18 whose court hearings had not been completed and more than 40% of them remained in custody. Ministry of Justice figures reveal that out of those, “60% had no previous convictions and 45% had had no contact with the judicial system at all, including official reprimands or warnings.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates that children should be held in custody during criminal proceedings only as a last resort, when there is no other way to prevent them from reoffending. It was passed by the United Nations in 1989 and has since been ratified by every nation in the world except Somalia and the United States.
Unicef emphasized that it could not determine whether the UK was officially in breach of the convention without a full legal review, but the organization has previously been critical of the high rate of child detention in the UK.
The Guardian adds that “despite declining rates of child incarceration, UK agencies warned that Britain still imprisoned more children than any other country in western Europe and after the riots the child population in prison jumped by up to 8%.”
Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform gives it as his opinion that the UK is in breach of the convention, noting, “We should not disregard the fact that these children are innocent until proven guilty, and even if convicted many would not expect to receive custodial sentences.”
Carolyne Willow of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England expresses a similar opinion, saying, “The UK is on the worst child incarcerators in the western world … Last year, 75% of children in custody were incarcerated for offences that did not involve violence against the person. We shouldn’t let all the tough-talking distract us from ministers’ obligations under international law and the fact that children who end up in custody are among the most disadvantaged in our country.”
Photo by hughepaul from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.