United Nations (UN) officials have recently called for the release of all children in detention in Israel, including all Palestinian children. The UN estimates that there were 194 Palestinian children detained by Israeli authorities at the end of March. Most of these children are yet to be charged and are being held while waiting for trial, which may be delayed greatly due to the effects of COVID-19.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which both Israel and Palestine are members, states in Article 37 that detention should only be used as a ‘last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently released guidelines for states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Article 8 of this document recommends that children be released from all forms of detention, and if that is not possible, then allowed to maintain regular contact with family. Palestinian children in Israel cannot maintain regular contact with their parents as crossing the Green Line into Israel has become even more difficult due to Coronavirus restrictions.
An article in the renowned medical journal, The Lancet, states that jails and prisons are a ‘very conducive’ environment for the transmission of the virus. Many people crowded together in a small space makes social distancing essentially impossible. There has been evidence of outbreaks in several prisons across the world, for example, over 2000 prisoners contracted the disease in one institution in Marion, Ohio. The article goes on to say that interventions, primarily releasing prisoners early or not admitting them at all, are necessary to reduce the rate of spread. This article was not specific to children, but it shows the greater risk they would have of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated.
The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, in April called on all states to release child prisoners. Along with the direct health concerns, she highlighted that detained children are more at risk of neglect, abuse and gender-based violence. This will be exacerbated by staffing shortages due to the pandemic, further highlighting the importance of releasing child prisoners.
Putting detained Palestinian children at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 adds an acute health concern to the ongoing international humanitarian and political issues Israel already faces as a result of its detention policy.
Prepared by Thomas Sweeney, APN Intern
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