The European Forum on the rights of the child is an annual conference organised by the European Commission. It gathers key actors from EU Member States, international organisations, NGOs, Ombudspersons for children, practitioners, academics and EU institutions to promote good practice on the rights of the child.

Held in Brussels November 7 – 8, this year marked the 11th European Forum on the rights of the child, and it focused on Children deprived of their liberty and alternatives to detention.

IDC had a delegation attending, including the coalition’s Advocacy Coordinator Silvia Gomez, Senior Child Rights Advisor Melanie Teff, Youth Advocate Pinar Aksu and Youth Advocate Gholam Hassanpour.

The forum highlighted the long-term damage that immigration detention can cause to children, even short periods of detention. Both Ms. Aksu and Mr. Hassanpour provided accounts of their experience of detention.
“The policemen then took us to a detention center where children and adults were held together, in miserable conditions, behind bars, like a prison.
This center has since been closed down. There was only one toilet and one bathroom for fifty people. We were allowed only one hour a day to go outside in the yard and to have a warm shower, but only the stronger ones could make it to the shower; the others were pushed aside.
It was November and it was really cold in the center – I used 3 blankets to try to get warm.  We were not allowed any contact with anyone on the outside…”
The Forum was a good opportunity for a few examples of alternatives to detention to be discussed to encourage Member States to move ahead with developing and expanding alternatives that are adapted to work in their specific context. Working in partnership with civil society organisations was shown to be key to developing effective alternatives to detention.

All 193 Member States of the UN have committed to working towards ending child immigration detention in the New York Declaration. Recently a Joint General Comment provided authoritative guidance on the interpretation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, as such, apply to all State Parties of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and /or the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. It reinforces and further clarifies that immigration detention is a child rights violation.


More work on developing alternatives urgently needs to be undertaken in the EU, in partnership with civil society. While many positive messages about moving towards ending immigration detention of children were shared at the forum, some states and the European Commission continued to justify immigration detention of children stating that the best interests of children must be balanced with the EU’s interests in migration management.

Melanie Teff, Senior Child Rights Advisor at IDC, moderated the session on immigration detention of children

UNICEF  highlighted that with political will, progress can be made, stating “all EU Member States have eliminated the death penalty. They can do the same on deprivation of a child’s liberty.”
The urgent need for reliable data on children deprived of liberty, including those in immigration detention, was also highlighted at the Forum, with widespread support expressed for the need to fund the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, without which it will be unable to go ahead.