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Interviewing Children

Children have the rights to have their consent and confidentiality respected. Except in emergency they should not be given medical treatment without a parent or guardian present. Similarly, a detailed account of the cause of injuries should only be taken from a child in the presence of a parent or guardian or, if they are not available, someone else representing the child’s best interests.

Older children may be tortured to suppress political activity. They should be treated in the same way as young adults, and the approach needs to be very sympathetic. Torture of younger children is generally performed to put pressure on parents. Where possible, the family should be treated together and the child’s injuries should be documented and managed by pediatric specialists.

A child, in particular, needs to be in an environment in which he or she feels comfortable before being willing to disclose sensitive information. In discussing traumatic events, a child may prefer to draw a picture and then to explain it. Children’s attention spans can be quite short, so it may be necessary to break the interview frequently. See additional considerations in Module 6, Children and Torture.