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Project Pitch and Q&A

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Project Summary

Immediately following the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide, Terre des Hommes (TDH) launched a project dedicated to building rapid knowledge and mobilizing interdisciplinary partnership to foster a global advocacy campaign with a swift, targeted, and effective impact for children deprived of liberty. This ongoing project is called "Accelerate Release of Children; Protect Children from COVID-19" and has led to the emergency release and reintegration care of hundreds of children worldwide. It has also boosted concrete child justice sector reform measures to make systems more resilient when facing crises and supported the empowerment of child justice actors, including children.

Problem Statement

COVID-19 significantly worsened the conditions of children and youth deprived of liberty, further undermining their existing invisibility, discrimination, and neglect in many ways: 

  • Prison systems, already generally overcrowded, struggled to implement the necessary measures to tackle the virus spreading. Consequently, COVID-19 spread quicker in prisons and in detention systems, further destabilizing individuals who are already in highly stressful situations. 
  • The pandemic disrupted the functioning of courts and justice proceedings with negative impacts on the provision of secure, timely, transparent, and fair hearings. 
  • Reduced court operations have often resulted in the extension of the duration of detention for children in pre-trial situations or those eligible for early release. 
  • Detention, exaggerated by social distancing and other quarantine rules, limits or eliminates a child's contact with his/her family, lawyers, and social workers. 

As illustrated, COVID-19 has produced an unstable situation that has led to degradations in the living conditions and well-being of a specific population group: children deprived of liberty. In order to tackle this situation and ensure the protection of the rights of children in conflict with the law, in March 2020, Terre des Hommes took swift action. TDH applied a bottom-up approach to build and operationalize a global advocacy campaign to draw attention to children deprived of liberty and call for their release. This project has not only resulted in the release of children from detention, but it has also boosted child justice reform process across different regions countries across the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and South East Asia. TDH convened experts to generate tailored and multidisciplinary operational tools for policymakers and different groups of professionals: lawyers, security forces, and the social workforce. As a result, hundreds of children have been released in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, and Palestine.

Project DescriptionTerre des Hommes

Following two decades of experience in working on enhancing justice for children around the world, TDH adopts a sustainable approach to justice sector reform that focuses combines systems strengthening (changes in laws and policies; capacity-building of justice actors) alongside the direct provision of services to children in contact with justice systems. Overall, TDH promotes a restorative and desistance-based approach to child-friendly justice, encouraging non-custodial measures for children in conflict with the law, as well as improving non-violent conflict resolution mechanisms and reintegration of children. The goals of these actions are to build resilient child justice systems where children's rights are upheld even in situations of crisis. Accordingly, TDH's work aims to ensure that no child is left behind and that all children are afforded the potential to contribute to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the multi-faceted challenges put in place by COVID-19, the project consists of activities to urgently release children from detention in the short term, while reinforcing practices to enable justice actors to continue to implement non-custodial measures for children in the longer term, alongside empowering children to claim their rights: 

  • In Mali, TDH supported the establishment of a Committee for Monitoring and Reintegration of Children in Contact with the Law, which has supported the release and monitoring of 52 children.
  • In Afghanistan, TDH's actions have led to the release of 127 children deprived of liberty in Kabul and Jalalabad, and a further 230 children have received hygiene products.
  • In Iraq, some 1,500 children and youth deprived of liberty received health and hygiene products to combat the spread of COVID-19 across nine juvenile custodial settings in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Tikrit provinces in addition to 62 children benefitting from an emergency release.
  • In Guinea, TDH trained prison healthcare staff and supported the implementation of protective measures to prevent the spread of infection and to ensure the adequate care of sick child inmates.
  • In Palestine, TDH has lobbied national and local authorities to implement an emergency release process, whereby 131 children have been released.

In all countries, the reintegration of children into their families and communities was supported by fostering spaces of exchange between children, parents, and justice system actors, in order to enable different views to be considered and ensure that all stakeholders feel ownership and responsibility in achieving children's safe release.

Project Impact and Potential for Scaling, Replication, and Sustainability

Comprehensive support to children in contact with justice systems severely affected by the pandemic requires multidisciplinary responses. In this project, a new model of action was created that includes operational tools that have been proven effective. It has already achieved policy-level changes. Most importantly, the effort has given voice to an invisible population previously muted and a window to the world of so many children behind bars. Replication is not only possible, it is urgent. Replication must be holistic, reaching other professionals within the justice and protection sectors in different countries. It should be expanded to consider policy advocacy in the health and education sectors in a greater number of countries in different regions. 

So far, the project has had robust results showing the effort to be meaningfully effective on the target population of detained children. Its success is very much due to the active involvement of different stakeholders and partners. The project, which has mobilized international civil society, NGOs, government agencies, and international organizations, has reinforced a collective commitment to tackle the challenges of COVID-19 for particularly vulnerable and invisible children such as those deprived of liberty. 

Scaling up this project entails capturing good practices and extending these to new geographical areas, including through harnessing the digital infrastructure of the Justice with Children platform and the preparatory meetings of the 2021 World Congress on Justice with children. The project has the potential to grow to many more countries and support thousands more children. At national and regional levels, TDH will leverage its convening power in order to engage more partners on the ground, from local and national civil society organizations, law firms, and governmental institutions to individual citizens, around a common goal of accelerating the release of children deprived of liberty and promoting child-friendly policies based on an alternative to detention, restorative justice, and diversionary measures. This will accompany the organization's ongoing commitment to improving access to justice for children over the next decade, in line with SDG 16.3.  

A key milestone to support scaling-up is the 2021 World Congress on Justice with Children that we are organizing with our partners, scheduled to take place in November 2021. This Congress will be the opportunity to build strategic alliances, involve new stakeholders, and promote policies aimed at ensuring access to justice for children in times of emergency and pandemic crisis.

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