Children languish in unsuitable Palestinian facilities during protracted pretrial detention

Dec 18, 2019
A narrow street in Balata refugee camp, Nablus, April 25, 2018. (Photo: Activestills / Anne Paq)

Ramallah, December 18, 2019—“I would do anything to get out. I would break my hand or cut myself so that I could go to the hospital. I got into many fights with the children and sometimes with the police. Whatever I could do, I would do it so I would not stay there. And because of that, I was placed in solitary confinement 11 times, for almost four days each time. And honestly, all of this led me to think about committing suicide because I could not stay there.”

These are the words of a 14-year-old child who was arrested by the Palestinian Criminal Investigation Police and held in the Nablus Correction and Rehabilitation Center for 22 months during pretrial detention.

The 14-year-old was at his grandfather's house in 2017 when Criminal Investigation Police forces came to the house around 9 a.m. in search of the boy. They stated that they needed to collect a statement from him about a crime, and it would only take a few minutes. But after the child got inside their unmarked car and the doors were closed, forces physically assaulted and handcuffed him.

The child was interrogated multiple times while detained at the Criminal Investigation Police station in Nablus for five days, without the presence of a lawyer or family member. During interrogations, the child was severely beaten and subjected to stress positions. He was also made to strip and then detained in cold temperatures for several hours while naked. “All of that made me confess even though I did not commit the crime at all,”  the child told Defense for Children International - Palestine.

After his confession, the child was transferred to Nablus Correction and Rehabilitation Center, a noncompetent facility for the detention of minors. He was kept there for nearly two years.

Despite the name, there was no apparent rehabilitative purpose in the Nablus Correction and Rehabilitation Center. The child said that conditions there were “unhealthy.” He was held in a small cell with five other children. The cell smelled terrible, and the food was poor. There was little to do in a week aside from the two scheduled exercise periods.

The child grew desperate, lashing out at others and even resorting to self-harming behaviors. “Imagine a 14-year-old boy cannot see his family, and he misses them so much. I could not accept the idea of living in that place because everything was hard and exhausting. I would do anything to get out,” said the child.

Instead of meaningful psychological interventions, the child was placed in isolation.

It wasn’t until the child was moved to Dar Al-Amal, a social care house for Palestinian children who are in conflict with the law, at the beginning of this year, that the boy found relief. Although still under pretrial detention, conditions were much better.

“Things are excellent, in terms of the detention room, the relationship with the children and teachers, the food, and the entertainment activities. Everything is available,” said the child.

At Dar Al-Amal, the child said he shared a “spacious” room with another child. The room had both air conditioning and a large window. He was able to participate in child-friendly programming and to telephone his family twice daily.

“Food is excellent and is served three times per day. And there is always food in the kitchen in case you feel hungry. I have a wonderful relationship with the children, and we do not have any unresolved issues,” said the child.

If Dar Al-Amal represents the rehabilitative intent of the Palestinian juvenile protection law, the Nablus Correction and Rehabilitation Center represents the all-too-common reality.

Between January and September 2019, DCIP documented 25 cases where boys arrested by Palestinian forces were held in inadequate facilities during pretrial detention. These institutions included both legally designated “specialized” facilities for children and unspecialized facilities that are not intended for children in custody.

Three factors are precipitating the disparity between the law’s goals and children’s lived experiences: legal loopholes allowing for the pretrial detention of children, the insufficient capacity of social care houses, and the arrests of children by bodies other than the Juvenile Police.

A loophole within a loophole

In keeping with international standards, the Palestinian juvenile protection law states that the deprivation of a child’s liberty should be a last resort.

Article 20, which attempts to curb the pretrial detention of minors, states, “It is not permissible to detain a juvenile unless the circumstances of the case necessitates otherwise.” In practice, the ambiguity of the term “necessitates otherwise” gives judges a great deal of discretion.

The law goes on to specify that in such cases, the juvenile prosecutor can order that children in conflict with the law be detained in a social care house, or be handed over to legal guardians.

The law clearly states that the period juveniles can be held in social care institutions cannot exceed 48 hours unless a judicial decision extends the detention. The Criminal Procedural Law No 3 of 2001 states that this extension cannot exceed six months.

A second loophole seals many children’s fate. Article 20 further allows: “In the event, a social care house is not available, the juvenile shall be in a detention facility designed for juveniles.

More social care houses for boys needed in West Bank

A social care house is often not available since capacity and resources do not match up to the detention rate of boys.

Dar Al-Amal is the single social care house in the West Bank that serves boys, who make up the majority of children in conflict with Palestinian law. As for girls, there is only one social care house in the West Bank—the Girls Care House, in Beit Jala. It serves girls in conflict with the law, girls at risk of delinquency, and young female victims of violence.

In 2018, 2404 of Palestinian children in conflict with Palestinian law were male, while 87 were female, according to the Juvenile Prosecution Unit’s data. DCIP evidence suggests that girls are more likely to have their cases resolved through mediation, making them less vulnerable to pretrial detention than boys.

Official figures indicate the number of children held in detention versus those whose cases were resolved without detention has decreased every year since the juvenile protection bill was signed into law in 2016. However, this number is not dipping so low as to justify the lack of expansion of social care houses for boys.

In 2016, 170 out of the 884 detained children detained were placed in Dar Al-Amal, according to the Juvenile Prosecution Unit’s records. This means that some 80 percent of children detained by Palestinian forces were held in non-rehabilitative facilities, which also serve adult prisoners and are supervised by noncompetent bodies. In 2017, the total number of children in detention dropped by more than half, to 391. Of these, 202 children were detained in Dar Al-Amal. Last year, 359 total children were detained by Palestinian forces, and 218 of them were placed in Dar Al-Amal, based on information provided to DCIP by the Ministry of Social Development.

Dar Al-Amal’s total capacity at any one moment is 45 children. Annual capacity is dependent on the length of each child’s placement there. Malik Abu Khalil, the general manager of Dar Al-Amal, estimated that under current conditions, Dar Al-Amal’s yearly capacity is in the ballpark of 250 children.

Beyond the total number of beds, there are two additional needs preventing children from being placed in Dar Al-Amal.

At a workshop that DCIP conducted in September 2019 on the obstacles of implementing the juvenile protection law, a member of the Juvenile Police forces shared concerns about the difficulty of coordinating the transfer of children from Dar Al-Amal to courts in some parts of the West Bank. He explained that there are not enough employees and vehicles to arrange and carry out transportation. As a result, he said, it is sometimes necessary for children to be detained in facilities closer to their trial locations.

Worse, the existing social care houses are neither prepared nor legally competent to receive all types of cases. Officially, social care houses are not meant to receive — nor allocated resources to serve — children with mental or physical disabilities, or those suffering from drug addiction.

“We have instructions from the Minister of Social Development not to host children with drug problems, but then we get a judicial order to detain a child suffering from drug abuse. It’s contradictory and put us in a challenging position,” said Abu Khalil. 

Other “specialized” places where children are held in pretrial detention

According to a section covering juvenile admissions in the internal regulation “Instructions on social care houses” which was issued by the Minister of Social Development on December 26, 2018, children not placed in a social care house due to infectious disease, drug addiction, or cognitive disabilities, must still be detained in a “specialized center.”

The failure of the Minister of Social Development to clearly define “specialized center” or issue any regulations limiting possible definitions, combined with the failure of the Council of Ministers to approve any executive regulations, once again leaves children unprotected.

These “specialized centers” currently amount to three pretrial detention centers, called “Nazarat” in Salfit, Qalqilya, and Hebron. They are considered specialized because the Juvenile Police forces supervise them.

Between January and September 2019, DCIP documented eight cases where children were detained in “specialized centers.”

DCIP’s lawyers and counselors who conduct quarterly monitoring visits have found that the overall conditions are inadequate. In two of the “specialized centers,” Salfit and Qalqilya, children share the building and facilities with adults. Children in these two centers have no time outside to play or exercise, while the Qalqilya facility allows children free time twice a week. None of the three centers have educational, recreational, or counseling programs. The availability of medical care and trained personnel are absent or insufficient in all three facilities, DCIP found.

Children in nonspecialized detention places

There are 13 nonspecialized detention facilities in the West Bank that are administered by the general directorate of the Palestinian Police or the Preventative Security forces, where children are sometimes held. Most of these are inside police stations and are intended for the short-term detention of adults. In the first three quarters of 2019, DCIP documented 17 cases where children were held in such facilities.

Last year, DCIP lawyers interviewed 111 children during monitoring visits, including 80 children in police stations or correction and rehabilitation centers, and 31 children in social care houses. “Children held in police station detention facilities suffer from inadequate ventilation, a lack of hygiene, as well as high levels of humidity,” said DCIP’s Socio-legal Defense Unit Coordinator, Sawsan Salahat.

Many children placed in nonspecialized pretrial detention centers were not arrested by the Juvenile Police but rather by some other Palestinian forces not authorized to carry out the arrest of minors.

Under the Juvenile Protection Decree-Law No. 4 of 2016, the juvenile prosecutor is the only party authorized to order a child’s detention, per Article 20. Once an arrest is so ordered, the Palestinian Juvenile Police force is the singular body legally sanctioned to carry out the arrest.

Based on Article 18 of the juvenile protection law, if a child is arrested by any party other than the Palestinian Juvenile Police while actively committing a crime, the child must immediately be handed over to the Juvenile Police and brought before the juvenile prosecutor within 24 hours.

Arrests carried out by other bodies in the absence of an active crime — or cases where the child is arrested by other bodies while in the process of committing an offense and the child is not quickly handed over to the Juvenile Police — deny children access to due process and other safeguards afforded to them by the new law.

Out of 59 cases documented by DCIP of children arrested by Palestinian forces between January and September of this year, 50 were arrested by a noncompetent authority. Of these 50 children, 43 were subjected to ill-treatment.

A detained child’s best interests

When the state of Palestine acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2014, it obliged itself to all protections and limitations pertaining to children in conflict with the law. The CRC states that the deprivation of a child’s liberty should be “a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

General Comment No.10 of 2007, which addresses children’s rights within juvenile justice, states that when used as a form of punishment, pretrial detention “violates the presumption of innocence.” The Committee raised concerns about children “languishing” in pretrial detention for long periods and emphasized that this practice constitutes a “grave violation.”

The CRC also holds that when children are detained, they must be separated from adults and held in children-only facilities administered by specially trained staff. They must also have access to family visits, and an environment in keeping with a rehabilitative aim.

DCIP’s legal work with Palestinian children is funded in part by the European Union in partnership with War Child Holland under a project aimed at preventing and mitigating the harm caused to children exposed to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.


The information and views set out in this feature are those of DCIP and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union or War Child. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use, which may be made of the information contained therein.



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