Detention of unaccompanied children
In theory, unaccompanied children cannot be returned and therefore cannot be detained as a consequence. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that in 2021, the six NGOs working in administrative detention centres met 102 detained persons who declared themselves to be children. These were young persons whose age had been disputed by the authorities and had been considered as adults, as a result of a medical examination for instance.
Unaccompanied children are often maintained in waiting zones in inadequate conditions. The Ombudsman urged in 2017 for a better consideration of their interests, in particular by: consolidating training of agents working in waiting zones; informing children about their situation and rights; providing them more space to speak and to be heard; establishing separate spaces for children in the waiting zone; and informing the Prosecutor (Procureur de la République) of all unaccompanied children in these locations. Moreover, the legal representation of unaccompanied minors in waiting zone is not always efficient in practice. For more information on whether children can be held in these locations, see the section Border procedure (border and transit zones).
Detention of families with children
There has been a steady increase in detained families with children from 2013 to 2019. In 2020, the Ombudsman reported that the widespread use of immigration detention of children with families, and instances of keeping the child in pre-removal detention alone while the parents are not held (particularly in Mayotte), remained problematic issues.
In 2021, 3,211 children were detained, of which 76 on mainland (41 families) and 3,135 (98%) in Mayotte. The Ombudsman has expressed concerns about persistent practices in the overseas department of Mayotte, where migrant children are falsely associated with other persons with whom they have no family ties in order for them to be placed in pre-removal detention and subsequently removed from the country. This mainly affects children from the Comoros arriving in Mayotte on makeshift crafts. Between 2012 and 2022, France has been condemned 9 times by the ECtHR for detaining children in situation not compatible with article 3 of the ECHR (length of detention too long and/or very young children and/or unsuitable place of detention).
In May 2020, some deputies filled a proposal for a law (not debated to date) aiming to “strictly regulate the administrative detention of families with minors”. The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights criticised in an opinion the “proposed law to strictly regulate the administrative detention of families with children”. The draft does not categorically prohibit immigration detention of children; it merely limits such detention to 48 hours, with a possible extension of three days. Recalling that the ECtHR found France guilty of arbitrary detention on multiple occasions, the opinion calls on the National Assembly to amend the legislative proposal.
Detention of victims of trafficking
Detention places are not meant to guarantee protection for victims of trafficking and the police officers hearing third-country nationals in these centres mainly focus on their administrative status. Potential asylum-seeking victims of trafficking do not feel safe and confident to submit an asylum claim, or to express their fear and their situation. They encounter difficulties to trust police officers unable to protect them against their traffickers.
 ECtHR, N.B. and others v. France, 31 March 2022, No. 49775/20.
 CNCDH, ‘Avis sur la proposition de loi visant à encadrer strictement la rétention administrative des familles avec mineurs : une occasion manquée’, NOR : CDHX2025771V, 4 October 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/2NlCTmg.