WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 On November 20th, Universal Children's Day, more than 120 US-based non-governmental organizations and advocates working to protect children issued a Call to Action to the U.S. and the international community to end the practice of detaining migrant children and ensure that these children receive the necessary care and services.
"Many of these children are unaccompanied by a parent or guardian," according to Richard Parkins, Director of Episcopal Migration Ministries and Chair of Refugee Council USA. "They may have fled to escape persecution, trafficking, gang violence or family abuse, and they need urgent protection.
The Call to Action details specific steps the Administration and Congress should take to protect migrant children. Alternatives to detention programs should be fully funded so that the detention of migrant children and families with children is a measure of last resort and only for the most exceptional circumstances.
The Department of Homeland Security should immediately transfer unaccompanied migrant children to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and children in immigration detention or custody should receive legal services as well as education, medical and mental health care.
The statement also calls on the United States to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child --- an important human rights treaty that has been signed by every country but the U.S. and Somalia.
"The U.S. should be a model for the international community on the protection of migrant children", said Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. "We urge our government to act now to fully protect these most vulnerable children."
The full statement appears below:
Protecting the Most Vulnerable: A Call to Action On Behalf of Detained Children
Universal Children's Day is a time to celebrate the promise of children across the globe. It is a time for governments to affirm their commitment to the rights and protections that allow children to reach their full potential.
In the spirit of Universal Children's Day, we call on the United States and the international community to take immediate steps to address a growing scourge on the international system -- the detention of migrant children, including asylum seekers. Many of these children are unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. They may have fled to escape persecution, gang violence, family abuse or trafficking. They are among the most vulnerable children in the world and they need urgent protection.
Consistent with international law and standards, governments should refrain from detaining migrant children. If children are detained, governments should ensure that it is only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time. In those exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to detain children, governments must ensure that children are placed in living quarters suitable for children and that they receive the necessary services, including health care, education and legal assistance.
The U.S should be a model for the international community on the protection of migrant children. But our country falls unacceptably short on this score. To reform our own system and to set an example for the international community, the Administration and Congress must act now to:
-- Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
-- Support and fully fund alternatives to detention programs so that the detention of migrant children and families with children is a measure of last resort and only for the most exceptional circumstances.
-- Ensure that the Department of Homeland Security immediately transfers unaccompanied migr