The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was launched at the United Nations in Geneva on 19th November 2019. The study, commissioned by the UN, is the world’s first comprehensive analysis of all forms of child detention – from institutional care to child justice, from children imprisoned with parents to migrant detention.
The study was led by an independent expert appointed by the UN with the support of an Advisory Board including Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Dean of the School of Law, UCC and Chair of the Oberstown Board of Management.
The key to this study, and one of the most innovative and original aspects, was the consultation with children led by a group of academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College Cork together with the international NGO, Terres de Homme.
National organisations in 22 countries consulted 274 children, who are deprived of liberty in all settings, about their experiences of their rights. The QUB/UCC research team used this data to bring together the world’s first comprehensive, global study of children’s experiences of their rights in detention.
Young people in Oberstown played an important part in the study by participating on the young people’s advisory group inputting both on the methodology and on the creation of a child-friendly version of the final report.
Separately, twenty-three young people in Oberstown submitted their experiences of detention to the Global Study.
The views, experiences and perspectives of young people in Oberstown, along with other young people from around the world, now appear in the Study in a dedicated chapter. Presented from their own perspective, the young people highlight the importance of their rights – to family, to education, to rehabilitation, to fairness. In addition, the importance of relationships – including those made in detention – and their hopes for the future shine brightly amidst the adversity of their lives.
The Global Study highlights how ‘apart from material concerns, children also articulated a need to have someone to turn to, who could listen to them and empathise. Having someone who kept them informed at every stage and who took their views seriously was crucial.…remaining genuinely open to what children have to say is central to a children’s rights approach. Experiences will naturally vary from child to child, and from context to context; individual children will have different experiences from one day to the next and there is thus a vital need to undertake consultations with children that capture and depict the diversity, complexities, and sometimes the contradictions, of children’s experiences.’
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also noted: ‘the voices of children involved in the child justice system are increasingly becoming a powerful force for improvements and reform, and for the fulfilment of their rights.’
Oberstown has recognised the need to empower the voices of young people on Campus and in 2017 the Board adopted the Campus Strategy for the Participation of Young People in decision-making. This followed the development of the Strategy with the young people themselves.
A key initiative in the implementation of the strategy was the creation of a Campus Council through which young people have their voices heard.
The Campus Council provides a safe space where young people in Oberstown can actively express their views on issues that affect them. Young people have the chance to influence and hear back from key decision-makers in areas of importance, chosen by them. The young people are facilitated to meet on a regular basis and to discuss issues they are interested in with a view to canvassing senior managers and getting feedback.
As well as their Council meetings, young people have taken part in a number of other council-related activities such as consultations with external agencies and, at their request, hosted a meeting with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, in 2018.
Also during 2018, an information booklet was developed for young people in consultation with them. Each young person receives a copy of the booklet on admission to Oberstown and discussions take place between key workers and young people on their rights.
All of these initiatives require commitment and leadership. The implementation of the Campus Participation Strategy is supported by the Campus Advocacy Officer, Grainne Smyth, whose work ensures that the input of young people in decision-making at Oberstown becomes further embedded at all levels.
Professor Kilkelly said: “The UN Global Study was an ambitious collaborative work that has documented for the international community how the rights of children deprived of liberty must be better protected – through investment in protection and prevention to alleviate the underlying causes, prioritising diversion to ensure detention is genuinely a last resort and investment in children’s rights approaches to detention when it is, in rare cases, unavoidable. In the Study’s many practical recommendations is a blueprint for how to respond to ensure that the rights of these children are fully protected now and in the future.
The Global Study has messages for Ireland, our youth justice system and for Oberstown Children Detention Campus. The new Youth Justice Strategy, in development, should take full account of its recommendations and embed them into our national law and policy. For Oberstown, the recommendations provide further support for the continuing reforms directed at embedding a children’s rights approach to detention, with young people at the heart of decision-making about their care and their lives, into our policies and more importantly our practice.”