On the detention of children in the United States of America

Endorsed content of The Sting’s close partner, the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA)

The border crossing point over the Rio Grande, connecting Reynosa, Mexico and McAllen, Texas, USA. August 2016.

UNICEF/Adriana Zehbrauskas The border crossing point over the Rio Grande, connecting Reynosa, Mexico and McAllen, Texas, USA. August 2016.

All children have the right to opportunities to survive, grow and develop with physical, emotional and social well-being. These rights are defined by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), which applies human rights to all age groups, and the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC), which extends special care and protection to address the unique needs of children. A child’s right to health is an inclusive right, which extends not only to health care services, but to a child’s well-being.

In reflection to these principles, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) severely condemns the separation of migrant children at the US borders, due to the recent immigration policy of the U.S. government. Nearly 2000 children were taken from their parents and placed in makeshift government shelters in less than a month and a half.

Numerous studies have shown that detention has a profound and negative impact on the child’s health and development. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has confirmed that immigration detention of children is never in the best interests of the child and will always constitute a violation of a child’s rights. Detention, even for a very short time, can significantly undermine children’s psychological and physical health and well-being, and compromise their cognitive development. Detained children are at a high risk of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and severe attachment disorder.

Reflecting on such profound consequences of detaining children, we believe that migrant children should never be detained and every possible measure should be implemented to ensure that children are not exposed to the unnecessary harms of detention. Furthermore, in cases of children who came into conflict with the law, all necessary steps should be taken to place children in a child-sensitive location, alternative to a detention facility, which protects children’s rights, freedom of movement, and grants the protections that all children deserve.

Despite the recent executive order by the President of the US, the IFMSA urgently calls on all involved institutions and on the U.S. government to immediately end this harmful practice and to never detain children, especially not for the purpose of deterrence of migration flows. A child’s right to health must never be undermined or influenced by policies and practices which are not in the best interest of a child. Children’s rights must be applied at all times regardless of their situation, status, or the national context.

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