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Children in custody - How does France compare with the US?

Children form a line as undocumented immigrant families are released from detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 22, 2018.
Children form a line as undocumented immigrant families are released from detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, U.S., June 22, 2018. Reuters

The death on Christmas Eve of an eight-year-old Guatemalan migrant held in a US detention centre has shocked the world. But are France's laws for keeping minors in custody any better?

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Second death of Guatemalan migrant child in US government custody - see France 24's report

In France, associations have been denouncing the consequences of keeping child migrants in custody.

In 2017, there were around 300 children detained with their family in mainland France, according to David Rohi from Cimade, a migrants' rights association.

The same year, in the overseas French territory of Mayotte, 2,500 children were detained.

“Detention provokes deep traumas. I've seen children who started bedwetting, stopped eating and shut themselves up, as well as mothers whose milk had dried up…” David Rohi told RFI.

Children in detention centers are likely to witness violent scenes, Rohi added.

A boy carries the photograph of Jakelin Caal, a seven-year-old Guatamalan who died in a Texas hospital two days after being taken into custody by US border authorities
A boy carries the photograph of Jakelin Caal, a seven-year-old Guatamalan who died in a Texas hospital two days after being taken into custody by US border authorities © Johan ORDONEZ / AFP

Age verification procedures criticized by associations

Unlike in the US, where an estimated 15,000 minors are in custody, an unaccompanied minor who has emigrated to France cannot be locked up alone in a detention center, nor expelled.

However, if his status as a minor is not recognised by French authorities, he may be imprisoned and expelled.

Age verification procedures for unaccompanied foreign minors have been criticised by several associations.

David Rohi says he witnessed cases when people detained were later recognized as minors when the initial decision was appealed.

Along with several associations, Cimade has launched a petition to stop putting minors in custody.

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