Representatives from PRI attended the 19th Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child held at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in late March 2012.
During the first day, PRI made an oral submission to the Committee in open session entitled: ‘Falling through the cracks – The best interests of the child and children of incarcerated parents: guidance on implementation of Article 30‘. The basis of this submission was that children whose parents are detained or imprisoned in Africa are an invisible and often highly vulnerable group whose rights and welfare can be gravely affected at every stage of criminal proceedings. This is the case whether they are detained with or separated from their parents.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) has many provisions of direct relevance to these children including the right not to be discriminated against based on the status of their parents (Article 3) and the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in actions affecting children (Article 4(1)). In addition, Article 30 of the ACRWC lays out a number of provisions ensuring ‘special treatment’ for pregnant women and mothers who are accused or convicted of criminal offences. It requires that non-custodial sentences always be considered first and that alternatives to detention be established and promoted. In particular, Article 30(1)(f) states: ‘the essential aim of the penitentiary system will be the reformation, the integration of the mother to the family and social rehabilitation.’
PRI’s submission stated that the Committee should consider developing a General Comment on Article 30 of the ACRWC because it highlights directly that the rights of children are affected when their primary caregivers are caught up in the criminal justice system. As such, it is a vital complement to the provisions contained with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and provides us with an invaluable tool in defining States Parties’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of this overlooked group of children. A General Comment would provide States Parties with clear and comprehensive guidance on Article 30 that will assist to drive improvements in implementation.
Following this submission, PRI was notified that the submission had been successful and that the Committee would indeed be working on a General Comment on Article 30 in the future – more details to follow.