Targeting the most vulnerable: children in detention in the US and Palestine

Palestinian children arrested in Jerusalem, from the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association site
More than 15,000 children have been detained when they tried to cross the southern border of the United States unaccompanied

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When kids are brown does anyone care?

Americans are grappling with the incarceration of 10-year-olds and the concept of “tender age detention centers” while morally bankrupt politicians wring their bloodied hands. As courts begin to respond, many folks across the political spectrum are wondering, “What happens to the children caught in this catastrophe?” Interestingly, there is much we can learn from research in the US and from the Israeli experience with regard to children and prisons. The US and Israel both perceive themselves as enlightened “western democracies,” yet both have high incarceration rates, particularly for children of color, sometimes involving the same global prison industries.  In both countries, these kinds of children are perceived as the “other,” the “enemy,” the “invading hordes ready to destroy America,” the “Muslim terrorists seeking to kill Israelis.” They are presented as less human and less deserving than white and/or Jewish children and less likely to evoke an empathic reaction….

….The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily and that arrest, detention, or imprisonment should only be used in extreme circumstances for the shortest period of time.  Ironically, the US is the only country in the world that has not signed the treaty as reported by the ACLU.

But signing the treaty is clearly not enough. According to Defense of Children International-Palestine, last year an average of 310 Palestinian children were imprisoned for “security offenses” each month, with 60 children 12 to 15 years of age. An estimated 700 children are prosecuted each year in military courts with a 99+% conviction rate. The most common charge is stone throwing which can result in up to 20 years in prison. There have been multiple reports of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse during arrest and interrogation, with 74.5% of children reporting physical violence during arrest and 62% reporting verbal abuse, intimidation and humiliation. Solitary confinement during interrogation has been documented, with an average period of 12 days. The Israeli military courts also put children in administrative detention for months, basically imprisoning them without charges or trial.

To be absolutely clear on this, if a Jewish Israeli child was caught throwing stones at a PA security officer or a Palestinian farmer harvesting his olives, he would not end up in detention.  Indeed, if he was from certain Jewish settlements, he would be celebrated as a hero. Such is the justice under military occupation. Jewish children live under civil law and of course are not viewed as the enemy….

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