Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

UNICEF highlights the plight of child prisoners in Asia

AFP , BANGKOK

Child prisoners in Asia are experiencing inhumane treatment and are at risk of sexual exploitation and drug abuse, UNICEF warned yesterday as it called for a regional judicial overhaul for the young.

The bleak outlook was laid out in a report by the UN fund titled Justice for children, Detention as a last resort, which called on Asian governments to find alternatives to prison for young offenders.

"Children behind bars face inhuman conditions and treatment. They are denied basic rights, such as decent healthcare and education, and are highly vulnerable to drug abuse, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS," it said.

Many children in detention have been convicted of only petty crimes or are awaiting trial, sometimes for extended periods, while others are guilty only of being homeless, or are victims of child trafficking and other forms of abuse.

UNICEF's regional director Mehr Khan said a greater focus was also needed on the causes of youth crime in the region.

"The vast majority of children in conflict with the law have suffered a history of abuse, including violence at home and at school, sexual exploitation, drug addiction and poverty," Khan said.

The report revealed that more than 1 million children are being held in detention worldwide, often sharing cells with adult prisoners in breach of international law. It recommended the establishment of child-friendly legal frameworks and special efforts to protect girls.

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