As part of the Child Rights Connect working group on children of incarcerated parents, Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) co-organised and participated in an international briefing for Member States at the UN in Geneva on 1 February 2017. This event took place during the 74th session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC); CRC Chair Benyam Mezmur gave the introductory remarks on the panel. There are Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendations and Human Rights Council resolutions elaborating on how States should implement these children’s rights. Co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Italy and Argentina in Geneva, the event highlighted how the tripartite partnership between the Ministry of Justice, the Children’s Ombudsman’s Office and an NGO does this in practice in Italy (Italian Memorandum of Understanding), as well as presenting how this is being replicated in Argentina and could be elsewhere.

Presenting to an audience of sixty diplomats from twenty-six Member States (Norway, Malta, Venezuela, Portugal, Argentina, Italy, Belgium, Poland, EU, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Holy See, Morocco, Canada, Serbia, Estonia, Dominican Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Slovenia, Greece, Monaco, Iraq, Brazil, Libya) and members of the CRC, COPE individual member and UN expert Rachel Brett highlighted COPE’s work and European developments relating to the Italian Memorandum of Understanding. Rachel underlined recent progress at European Union and Council of Europe levels.

Recommendations and key messages

In addition to the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Day of General Discussion on Children of Incarcerated Parents, the Child Rights Connect working group on children of incarcerated parents would like to emphasise the following measures:

Domestic policy and practice

– Recognise that this is a child rights issue
– Recognise the impact that parental incarceration has on children, including children detained with their parent and those who are separated as a result of parental incarceration
– Ensure that the best interests of the child are taken into account as a primary consideration at all stages of the criminal justice process involving a parent (including arrest, sentencing, imprisonment and release)
– Provide training to those whose work brings them into direct contact with children of incarcerated parents, both those for whom this is clear (e.g., police, court and prison staff) and those for whom the issue may be hidden (e.g., school staff, health care professionals)
– Ensure holistic, cross sectoral communication and coordination within government and between government, national human rights institutions and civil society
– Ensure that children are heard in decisions affected them individually (including the sentencing of their parent) and that children are consulted in the formulation of policy on children of incarcerated parents
Work with civil society and national human rights institutions to adopt a formal agreement replicating the Italian Memorandum of Understanding
– Ensure that children are kept informed in a timely and age appropriate way
Collect information on the number of children affected and other data in order to ensure adequate provision of support

Raising awareness and supporting implementation through the UN human rights system

– Include information on the number of children affected and the provisions in place to mitigate harm in reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and other relevant Treaty Bodies
– Use questions in advance and recommendations in the Universal Periodic Review process
– Include in this group of children in relevant Human Rights Council resolutions
– Submit information on number of children affected and provisions in place for them to relevant OHCHR reports and studies
– Support the Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty (which is set to include specific attention to children detained in prison with a parent)

Author: Hannah Lynn