Top U.N. Body on Women’s Issues Must Address Rights of Incarcerated Girls, Says ACLU

March 6, 2007 12:00 am

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Global Gathering Urged Not to Forsake Girls in Detention

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women not to neglect the human rights of girls in government custody. According to the organization, incarcerated girls are particularly vulnerable and subject to violence, abuse and neglect. The priority theme of the 51st annual meeting of U.N. Commission on the Status Women, which meets this week in New York, is “the elimination of discrimination and violence against the girl child.”

“While it’s certainly refreshing to see the United Nations mainstreaming gender equality and focusing on the girl child, failure to address the issue of incarcerated girls will be a setback,” said Jamil Dakwar, senior counsel with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Our concern is the large number of girls who are exposed to violence and abuse hidden from the public view, who are in danger of being left behind.”

The ACLU urged the Commission today to include three specific provisions in the final ‘Agreed Conclusions’ to be issued later this week; that incarcerated girls be kept free from sexual and physical violence; that girls who are in the state’s custody receive adequate education and vocational training; and that the definition of vulnerable girls be expanded to include girls in detention.

The ACLU’s call comes on the same day that international leaders in the field of women’s and girls rights convened for a panel discussion intended to share international best practices for advocacy on behalf of court-involved girls. The session, titled Advancing the Rights of Incarcerated Girls: A Comparative International Discussion, was hosted by the ACLU, Penal Reform International, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Building on a September 2006 report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, Custody and Control: Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons for Girls, that exposed abuses against incarcerated girls in New York State, the gathering was intended to expand the findings of the report and to make connections across political and cultural boundaries.

The report provides an in-depth look at the abuses and neglect suffered by girls confined in two remote New York juvenile facilities known as Tryon and Lansing. The facilities are operated by the New York Office of Children and Family Services and are the only two higher-security facilities in New York State holding girls. The report documents that Lansing and Tryon staff frequently restrain girls violently, seizing them from behind and pushing them to the floor, then pulling their arms up behind them to hold or handcuff. Using such violent restraints for minor infractions constitutes a disproportionate and excessive use of force. Girls who have been restrained typically end up with “rug burns” – abrasions on their faces – as well as cuts, bruises and in rare cases, a concussion or a broken limb.

“The problems faced by incarcerated girls in the Lansing and Tryon facilities are not unique to New York State or to the United States,” said Mie Lewis, Aryeh Neier Fellow at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Human Rights Watch, and author of the report. “It is our charge to expand upon what we found in our own backyard and apply it to girls around the world.”

The intent of today’s session was to bring together human rights experts and international juvenile justice experts to identify shared advocacy goals, collaborate on solutions and develop concrete strategies for using a human rights framework to complement existing advocacy to end rights violations against incarcerated children.

In 2005, UNICEF estimated that one million children and adolescents are believed to be in confinement worldwide. In 2003, the number of juveniles incarcerated in the United States alone reached nearly 100,000. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in June 2004 an estimated 7,083 persons under 18 years of age were held in adult jails, accounting for 1 percent of the total jail population.

The Commission is comprised of 45 member states of the U.N. and is the principle global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. More information on the 51st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is available online at:

Custody and Control is available online at:

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