The United States has defended its policy of detaining juveniles in prisons in Iraq, and Afghanistan. The issue is expected to be high on the agenda Thursday when the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child examines U.S. compliance with U.N. rules on dealing with children in armed conflict. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
In a report submitted to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the United States acknowledges it has detained almost 2,500 youths under the age of 18 since 2002. Almost all have been detained in Iraq under President Bush's anti-terrorism campaign.
Washington says it is holding more than 500 juveniles suspected of being "unlawful enemy combatants" in detention centers in Iraq. Another 10 are being held at the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan.
Human Rights groups have criticized the policy, which they say violates an international treaty that deals with the Rights of the Child.
Human Rights Researcher for the American Civil Liberties Union, Jennifer Turner, tells VOA, It is difficult to know whether these children are being treated properly or are being mistreated.
"In the case of, for instance, one of the prisoners at Guantanamo, Omar Khader, his lawyers and he have alleged that he was subjected to torture and that evidence obtained through torture is being used against him in a trial. We know that according to the United States, 10 children are in prison at Bagram base in Afghanistan, one of the bases which is known for past cases of torture being used against prisoners there. And, we are very concerned that the U.S. is not complying with its obligations to provide rehabilitation and reintegration into society for children in prison," he said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Issues, Sandra Hodgkinson, says the United States does detain juveniles that are encountered on the battlefield. She says that both removes them from the dangerous effect of combat and at the same time protects American forces and other innocent civilians.
"We go to great lengths when we do detain juveniles to recognize the special needs of the juvenile population and to provide them with a safe environment away from hostilities. In Iraq, for example, we have developed an extensively robust program of a juvenile education center working with the Iraqi government. It is a separate school exclusively for those juveniles who have taken part in hostilities and have been recruited into armed conflict, which is something we very much oppose...We take all measures to encourage as robust a communication with their families as is possible," she said.
Hodgkinson says U.S. policy is not to detain a juvenile for more than a year whenever practicable. She says it is unfortunate that children are sometimes imprisoned. But, she notes these children pose a danger. Some have been involved in planting road bombs and some have been recruited as suicide bombers.