New legislation is a step forward for the protection of children’s rights in Europe


Belgium has enacted a new law that prohibits child immigration detention, preventing the detention of children in closed centers. This positive move comes as part of a broader set of migration reforms that also include stricter measures on forced returns, family reunification and mandatory health testing.

The prohibition of child immigration detention in Belgium is a very positive step forward. The move aligns with international law, which clearly states that immigration detention is never in the best interest of the child and that it is a form of violence against children. The new law now ensures that children in Belgium, whether accompanied or alone, will not be subjected to the harmful and unnecessary experience of detention related to their immigration status.

But while the new law ends detention of children in  closed centers, it still allows children to be kept in so-called ‘return houses’ — semi-closed facilities housing migrant families who are awaiting a decision on their asylum case, their removal from the country or voluntary return.

Belgium’s migration policy changes also contain problematic new measures. Alongside the ban on child detention, the reforms introduce policies aimed at increasing the rate of forcible deportations, curtailing family reunification and enforcing mandatory health testing.

While the ban on child detention is a very welcome step forward, these new measures are worrying, and risk infringing on the human rights of migrants and refugees. IDC and its members in Belgium will continue engaging with the government of Belgium to further improve protections for children and to develop alternatives to detention that safeguard all migrants and refugees.


A welcome development

IDC welcomes the ban on child detention and urges other countries to follow Belgium’s example. Executive Director, Carolina Gottardo, praised the move as a crucial step towards protecting children’s rights.

“Belgium has set a powerful example to other countries in Europe and beyond by ensuring that no child will face the trauma of detention due to their immigration status. This is a significant step forward in protecting the fundamental rights of children. It is even more powerful within the context of the new Migration and Asylum Pact, which increases the likelihood of child immigration detention.

“Belgium is going in the right direction while Europe is going backwards. We urge other countries to take immediate action to abolish child immigration detention and follow Belgium’s lead in upholding international human rights standards.

“Every child, everywhere, needs to be treated with dignity and respect.”

A global concern

The issue of child immigration detention is a pressing concern globally, with hundreds of thousands of children affected by immigration detention practices each year. Despite international condemnation, many countries still detain children, either alone or with their families, leading to significant psychological and developmental harm — and the practice is currently prevalent in Europe.

Belgium’s decision comes at a time when the European Union is preparing to implement its new Migration and Asylum Pact, a contentious new policy framework that will likely increase the use of detention — including child detention — across Europe.

IDC and other human rights organisations are calling on the EU to ensure that children’s rights are at the forefront of its migration policies, and that international human rights laws and standards are upheld. It is clear under international law that there is never any justification for child immigration detention. Belgium’s move to ban child detention is a positive development in the protection of children’s rights, setting a precedent for other nations.

As countries around the world grapple with migration policy, the call for humane and rights-based policies remains urgent. Belgium’s example shows that progress is possible, but also highlights the need for vigilance in ensuring that the fundamental human rights of all people are upheld, regardless of their immigration status.