More than 100,000 children are being held in migration-related detention in the US, often in violation of international law, the UN said on Monday.
Manfred Nowak, lead author of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, said that the figure refers to migrant children in custody who reached a US border unaccompanied, as well as those detained with relatives and minors separated from their parents prior to detention.
“The total number currently detained is 103,000,” Nowak told reporters, calling it a “conservative” assessment, based on the latest available official data as well as “very reliable” additional sources.
Worldwide, at least 330,000 children across 80 countries are being held for migration-related reasons, according to the global study released on Monday, meaning the US accounts for nearly one-third of such detentions.
The study in part looked at violations of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which mandates that child detentions be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
The US is the only UN member state that has not ratified the convention, which took effect in 1990.
However, Nowak said that did not absolve US President Donald Trump’s administration of wrongdoing with respect to the detention of migrant children at the southern border with Mexico.
“Migration-related detention for children can never be considered as a measure of last resort or in the best interest of the child,” Nowak told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland. “There are always alternatives available.”
He added that even though the US has not ratified the child rights convention, it is bound by the convention on civil and political rights, which forbids cruel and inhuman treatment.
“Separating children, as was done by the Trump administration, from their parents, even small children, at the Mexican-US border ... constitutes inhuman treatment for both the parent and the children,” Nowak said.
“There are still quite a number of children that are separated from their parents, and neither the children know where the parents are nor the parents know where their children are,” he said. “That is something that should definitely not happen again.”
Nowak said the Trump administration did not reply to a questionnaire submitted to member states while the report was being researched.
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