Locking Up Children ‘Sends the Wrong Message’

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In a decision which emphasised the overriding importance of personal liberty – and the pernicious effects of locking up children – a local authority’s plea that a 14-year-old sex trafficking victim should be confined to a secure home for her own good has been rejected by the High Court.

The girl had been brought to the UK against her will and groomed by criminals for sexual exploitation. She had twice put herself in peril by absconding from her foster home to visit predatory men, once by climbing down a drainpipe. The council argued that she should be held in secure conditions for her own protection.

In dismissing the application, however, the Court stressed that children should only be deprived of their liberty in the most extreme circumstances. The judge said, “Locking a child up is corrosive of a young person’s spirit. It sends a subliminal and unintended message that the child has done wrong, which all too often will compound problems rather than form part of a solution.

“The courts have seen a number of cases in recent years where vulnerable young girls have been exploited in a variety of ways by groups of predatory men. That so many of these men escape prosecution and continue to enjoy their liberty, whilst the young girls they exploit are locked up for their own protection, sends very confusing messages to the girls themselves, to the distorted minds of the men who prey on them and to society generally.”