miércoles, 11 de abril de 2018

Marta Santos Pais: “The children with incarcerated parents are the most invisible group in public policies”

At the last UN General Assembly, Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SRSG), presented the preliminary findings of “Las voces de niñas, niños y adolescentes con referentes adultos privados de libertad” (The voices of children and adolescents with incarcerated parents)”. This was a regional research effort carried out last year in partnership with Plataforma NNAPES. 

During her presentation she highlighted that: “These children have the right to visit their incarcerated parents in secure and respectful places.” She then added, “For these children; fear, insecurity and lack of access to support services are very high concerns. Children are often bullied at school because a relative is in prison”.

This research is a contribution to the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty . It was produced with the aim of making the situations that these children face visible through the collection of qualitative information collected in 8 countries from the LAC region: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

What do the voices of children and adolescents in reference to their incarcerated parents say?

The study shows that the majority of these children live in vulnerable situations that worsen when their father or mother is incarcerated.

The study highlights the deprivation of liberty that the adult creates negative consequences in every aspect of the child's life. Some of the many consequences are stigma and social condemnation. For instance, a Mexican adolescent stated “At school, people don’t like you and say: “Oh, your relative is in the prison. They begin to say stuff about you as if you are a criminal yourself.”

The negative impacts on family life are due to changes in the care of the children as well as the changes in the family's financial situation. The Mexican adolescent states that her family changed a lot when her stepfather was arrested. “My mother wasn't eating, she wasn't doing the things she normally did and she wasn’t going to work. She used to get home at 1 or 2 am so no one was there to take care of my little brother.” As presented the child must adapt to the changes in his/her life and take on adult roles.

These children also often face violent situations and thus are forced to start working to provide an income for the family. They are at a higher risk of sexual exploitation and could end up living on the streets.

Another common consequence is the emotional impact on the child. The study highlights that sadness, pain, fear, shame, hatred and anger are amongst the most common feelings.

The situations that are experienced by these children and adolescents can also increase the school dropout rate.The education system in general, isn’t able to provide the support that the child may need to continue with their education. “I didn't go to school until my mother and father came out of prison.” said a Nicaraguan child.

Lastly, the children and adolescents that participated in the study recommended the following: :

  • Encourage the creation of conversation and open dialogue spaces for children with incarcerated parents. 
  • Ensure psycho-affective and economic support to families. 
  • Perform intersectional programs with a strong emphasis on the education system.
  • Protect the rights of the families to live with freedom from violence.
  • Plan actions for addiction prevention and treatment. 
  • Implement changes in the way arrests and police home invasions occur.
  • Reform the penal system, improve the quality of the visits and allow for a longer time period for visits in the penitentiary centers.