Systemic racism and the disproportionate criminalisation of children from indigenous, ethnic and other minority groups

Systemic racism is racism that has been structured and institutionalised, entrenched in the very fabric of an organisation, institution, or society, thus manifesting as acceptable and legal the different forms of discrimination in policy, employment, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and other societal areas. [i]

Across the globe, children of indigenous, ethnic, and other minority groups face discrimination in the justice system. For example, in the US, the “school-to-prison pipeline” is a phenomenon where school children (often from black and ethnic minority backgrounds) are siphoned directly into the justice systems for their behaviour in school.[ii] In the UK, black and multiracial children and youth feel that they cannot trust or find safety with the police, and report experiencing negative or racist interactions.[iii] In Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, children and youth from indigenous communities are overrepresented in the justice system and face over-policing, police profiling, and incarceration.[iv]

Equality is a fundamental pillar of human rights and particularly relevant in the child justice system. Policies to deal with and dismantle disparities in child justice systems need to recognise the necessity to end existing practices of sending youth to the adult court system; promote alternatives to detention; and invest in community-based services, schools, healthcare, and mental health programmes that are robust and accessible regardless of race. [v]


[i] From Cosmetics to NASCAR, Calls for Racial Justice Are Spreading, available at:
[ii] School-to-Prison Pipeline | American Civil Liberties Union (
[iii] Study: Almost all Black British children have experienced racism at school | World Economic Forum (
[iv] Racial Profiling, Surveillance and Over-Policing: The Over-Incarceration of Young First Nations Males in Australia, available at:
[v] Conyers, Black Lives Matter – Addressing Disparities in the US Child Justice System, American Preparatory Meeting December 11, 2020.

Disclaimer: Authors are the Global Initiative on Justice With Children with pro-bono support from Baker McKenzie. This section represents one among other positions of some members of the World Congress Consortium and does not necessarily represent the view of all institutions and members involved.