This article explores critically the relationship between international human rights standards and the practices of child imprisonment at a global level. Four key issues are afforded close attention: the separation of child and adult prisoners; the provision of ‘child appropriate regimes’; the protection of child prisoners’ rights and the operation of independent complaints and inspection mechanisms. We argue that there is manifest tension between international human rights standards and the practical realities of child imprisonment. Whilst we recognise the vital potentialities of the human rights standards – to pacify the more problematic excesses of child imprisonment – we also remain cognisant of their practical limitations and reserve a sense of scepticism in respect of the concept of ‘rights-based approaches’ to the penal detention of children. Ultimately, we challenge the legitimacy of child imprisonment and recommend its abolition.
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