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12th October 2011

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) focused the annual UN Day of General Discussion (DGD) this September on children with imprisoned parents. Representatives from the COPING project were in attendance amongst the various NGOs and European networks present. In addition, children from the COPING project were invited to attend and speak on their experiences.

“The COPING Project asked me if I wanted to come to Geneva to talk to people about my experiences. I came because I wanted to tell people what things are like first-hand instead of professionals telling our stories for us.” Raheel, 17 came from the UK to discuss his experiences of having a father in prison. He was joined by Sian, 13, who also came to Geneva from the UK. “It was a wrench as we literally had to pack up our stuff and leave the country to come back to the UK within six days”, Sian was 8 when her father was arrested in Spain. During the meeting she expressed the hardships faced by her family when they were relocated to the UK as a result of her father’s incarceration. The attendance of the children at the event was powerful and aided much in the efforts of awareness-raising set forth by the DGD.

The DGD was broken into two working groups which each covered various elements of coping with life as a child with an imprisoned parent. The first group covered babies and children living with or visiting a parent in prison. The second dealt with children who are left ‘outside’ during their parent’s incarceration.

The conference was a landmark for this vulnerable group of children in gaining recognition amongst international policy-makers, NGOs, and networks. The discussion covered the importance of maintaining the child-parent relationship, the consideration of the age of the child in reference to living in prison, the right for a child to know the truth of the incarceration, adequate training for prison staff, budgeting, and the problem of identification.

A senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom, who is also part of the COPING Project drew on a study conducted at an open women’s prison that allows children of up to 18 years whose mothers are serving custodial sentences to stay together in a specially allocated house within the prison grounds. This system allows children to bond through plaiting hair, painting each other’s nails and dancing. Before this initiative, the children of female inmates remarked that they felt suicidal; but after its construction, the senior lecturer highlighted that allowing for private visits between prisoners and their children is crucial for the latter to get through the experience of being separated from a parent.

The event was a great success for raising awareness of children with imprisoned parents as well as the research of the COPING project.

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Author: rmchristen