Arresting children should be used as a last resort and for the shortest period, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday.
Marta Hurtado told Anadolu Agency that child detentions should also “be considered in light of the best interests of the child.”
“These principles are set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as General Comment 24 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Children’s rights in juvenile justice,” she said.
Her comments were in response to four 10-year-old who were held in police custody Nov. 5 for more than 11 hours in Albertville, France, on false allegations of "apology of terrorism," according to interviews with parents.
Three of the children of Turkish descent and one of Algerian descent allegedly said they did not like blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad while responding to a question from their teacher at the Louis Pasteur Elementary School.
The teacher considered the response an “apology of terrorism” and reported the children to police.
Hurtado said special rapporteurs and human rights experts working within the OHCHR have repeatedly reacted to France’s anti-terror law.
“UN human rights mechanisms have expressed concern in the past that the French offense of ‘apology for terrorism’ may unduly restrict freedom of expression and has been used extensively against minors,” said Hurtado.
“Strategies involving children should focus on prevention and integration, with child-friendly and multidisciplinary responses. This is especially important due to the potential serious impact of such experiences on a child,” she said.
According to experts, 85% of cases relating to terrorism fall under “apology for terrorism” enforcement which affects the protection of free expression in a robust democracy.
France is home to the largest population of Muslims in Europe and Islam is the second-largest religion practiced in the country next to Catholicism.
The world stood by in shock after the knifing of two people outside the former offices of weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in September; the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb in October and the brutal killing of three people inside Nice's Notre Dame basilica Oct. 29.
The attacks initiated French officials’ rather hasty, find a scapegoat approach, and Muslims were targeted.
Critics say French President Emmanuel Macron's government is exploiting the spate of violence to intensify his controversial anti-Muslim stance.