Photo by Natalia Calvello, Plataforma NNAPES/Gurises Unidos.
Children with a parent in prison are forgotten victims of imprisonment whose rights and welfare are affected at every stage of their parent’s detention – yet they often remain invisible in criminal justice systems. In the third blog of our series for the World Congress on Justice with Children, 10 years after the Committee on the Rights of the Child held a Day of General Discussion and issued recommendations on children of incarcerated parents, Lía Fernández discusses efforts to raise the voices of children and adolescents with a parent or relative in prison in Latin America and the Caribbean – and what they have to say.
“The Committee should make sure that these recommendations are being followed. The participation inthis process gave the chance to learn and to express myself. As an adolescent I became aware of my rights and each of the activities we did helped me to understand things better. It has been very moving as well.” – Adolescent from Chile
The Day of General Discussion (DGD) of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) on the issue of children with incarcerated parents, which took place in 2011, revealed that there was a lack of information about the consequences and the negative impact of parental incarceration in the lives and rights of millions of children and adolescents worldwide, including in Latin America and the Caribbean. Due to scarce information, both quantitative and qualitative, a lack of laws and public policies specifically aimed at taking into consideration the characteristics of this population, insufficient or non-existent programs to address their needs, and few spaces that are created to listen to and to promote their participation, these children and adolescents can be considered “invisible” or “collateral victims” of incarceration to the general public, most civil society organizations and state authorities at all levels.
Based on this analysis, context and needs, and with the idea of filling these gaps, the Plataforma NNAPES (acronym for children with incarcerated parents (CIP) in Spanish) was born. The Plataforma’s first key activity was the production and publication of Invisible: No more (2014), the first regional report which aimed to analyze and make visible the situation of children and adolescents of incarcerated parents and their families in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report, among other findings, estimated that, at the time, there were around 2.3 million children and adolescents with incarcerated parents in the region and concluded that having a member of the household in prison increases the level of vulnerability in which these children and families live in.
On top of generating knowledge, awareness-raising and advocacy activities, since the publication of Invisible No More, the Plataforma also pursued another key objective: to encourage the participation of these children and adolescents. In this regard, and in parallel to the creation of safe spaces where children and adolescents could start sharing their stories and feelings at the local level, the Plataforma made a conscious effort to make sure their voices were also heard in key spaces and by key national and regional actors in order for them to understand the issue firsthand.
This is how some of the children and adolescents have had the chance, over these years, to share their views in meetings and events with national authorities, with Committee of the Rights of the Child Members or with members of the Inter American Institute of the Child, the Inter American Commission and the Inter American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States, among others.
In each of these events, they were able to clearly state their views and opinions about the situations they and their peers have experienced due to having a parent or a relative who is in prison.
Along these lines, this year, 10 years after the DGD was held and the recommendations of the Committee were published, the Plataforma coordinated a regional consultation where 57 children, youth, and adults from Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Uruguay analyzed and discussed the recommendations.
Some conclusions which emerged from this process were that, besides the fact that the recommendations are still relevant, in general, what the children and adolescents experience in their daily lives is different. Below are some of the conclusions they arrived at:
- CIP still carry the stigma of “shame”. This is why they usually hide this part of their life story from others and they prefer to remain silent to avoid being judged, singled out, and discriminated against.
- They are often bullied by their peers or adults in different situations and spaces, such as schools, health centers, clubs, etc.
- They believe that the lack of training and awareness teachers or other professionals receive on the issue directly relates to the unfair or unequal treatment they usually receive from them.
- They express that there is almost no emotional or economic support provided by the state for them and their families, which they think is key to be able to handle the situation and continue with their lives.
- Specifically, at the time of arrest, they report situations of violence and abuse in a systematic manner. With few exceptions, most of the CIP that have gone through these situations, and they mention that the way in which they have been treated by police or military officials exposes them to situations that put them at risk and threaten their psycho-emotional integrity and basic human rights.
- Those that visit their parents or relatives in prison confirm that the spaces that where visits take place are far from being “friendly”. Some of them also have gone through – in the absence of scanners for example – invasive and abusive body searches when entering the premises and have suffered bad treatment from prison officers during the visits.
Based on this analysis by the affected children, youth, and adults themselves, Plataforma can only confirm that it is urgent and necessary to take the necessary measures so the recommendations, which are not yet followed or only partially followed, translate into actions that can help to change the reality these children face day by day; the judicial system in particular has a big responsibility in this regard.
The CIP specifically ask for:
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child to monitor and make sure that the recommendations are effectively followed.
- States to provide the necessary support (financial, psychological, educational, etc.) to CIP and their families when they incarcerate a family member.
- Judicial actors and security forces to consider the presence of children during arrest procedures and inform children in a child-friendly way of the specific situation they are going through without exposing them to situations of abuse or violence.
- Training of police and security forces personnel on the essential human rights of CIP.
- Workshops and training for educators and professionals so they start creating safe spaces for them to participate in and where they are treated in an equal way as their peers who do not have parents or relatives in prison.
- Campaigns to raise awareness with the general public so they become more emphatic with them and their families and hence, make them feel safer and less discriminated against.