From fences to freedom, the campaign to keep children out of immigration detention

The Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention was set up to push for an end to the practice of detaining children for immigration purposes. IDC launched the campaign at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, with a view to safeguarding the rights and dignity of children worldwide.

The campaign was built on a clear principle: detaining children for immigration reasons is always wrong and violates their rights. This belief drove our efforts and led to significant changes in international attitudes and laws.

The campaign was a powerful force for change, bringing together over 160 organisations from nearly 50 countries, all united in their mission to protect the rights of migrant children and their families.

As the Global Campaign to End Child Detention expanded, it became a platform for national campaigns and advocacy strategies calling for an end to the immigration of children around the world, most notably in Australia, Greece, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa and Tanzania.

The campaign also spotlighted serious regional issues, like family separations in the United States and the mass deportations of children and families to the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The Global Compact for Migration and its adoption in 2018 represented a significant win for collective global advocacy efforts. The compact includes a clear commitment by States to work to end child detention and prioritise non-custodial alternatives.

IDC’s work to create global discussions and peer learning around child immigration detention ultimately led to the creation of the UN Network on Migration Working Group on Alternatives to Detention (ATD).

IDC now leads the UN Migration Network workstream on alternatives to detention, alongside UNICEF and UNHCR, supporting States in their work to end child immigration detention and support non-custodial alternatives through peer learning exchange and other advocacy efforts.

Through persistent advocacy, the Global Campaign to End Child Detention helped to change international law, making it clear that detaining migrant children is not in their best interest and is a breach of children’s rights. And in specific countries, the campaign led to various improvements in laws, policies and practices, shifting the landscape away from detention and towards better alternatives that respect children’s rights.

The Global Campaign didn’t just aim to end detention; it promoted a better way to treat migrant and refugee children. It pushed for community-based alternatives, allowing children and their families to live in the community – with access to education, healthcare and legal support – while their immigration cases were resolved.

The influence of the Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention extends to today’s migration policies, showing that global advocacy can lead to real change. The challenge now is to continue this work, ensuring that respect for children’s rights remains at the heart of our approach to migration governance and that no child is detained for immigration purposes.

Check out archive videos from the campaign

Stories from children detained in Mexico

A children's video that's not for children

Alternatives explained: a tale of two children