Children in jails: violation of rights

Supreme Court guidelines make it mandatory for jail authorities to provide children living with their imprisoned mothers with food, shelter, medical care, education and recreational facilities.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has done well to initiate an exercise across the country to identify cases of children living in jail with their imprisoned mothers. It has issued notices to all states and Union Territories to report such cases to it within six weeks. The NHRC acted in response to a recent media report about 46 boys and girls between one month and six years of age who are in jails in Orissa with their mothers. As rightly pointed out by the rights watchdog, these children are suffering imprisonment although they have committed no crime. Supreme Court guidelines make it mandatory for jail authorities to provide children living with their imprisoned mothers with food, shelter, medical care, education and recreational facilities. The guidelines also require infants to be taken care of in a creche and children between 2-3 years of age in a nursery, run by the prison authorities outside the jail premises. However, the reality on the ground is different. Children languish in jails and suffer substandard conditions. The apex court guidelines entitle them to better facilities. But these rights are being violated.

Many of the jailed mothers shouldn’t be in prison in the first place. Of the 46 mothers that the media report called attention to, 36 are undertrials. Our lethargic justice system is keeping them locked up when they are not convicted yet, perhaps because they could not pay the bail amount or their case has not come up in court yet. That the mother is living her life out behind bars underscores the failure of our justice system. That infants and toddlers have to suffer jail time, too, is a damning indictment of our justice systems and our abject failure to respond with sensitivity to the needs of children.

Many studies have underscored the importance of early childhood learning as well as the environment and nurturing the child gets in an individual’s physical, mental and psychological growth and the moulding of his personality. The children of jailed parents already begin life at a huge disadvantage. Society and even family are unwilling to accept them because of their background. If they have to be denied education and recreation, too, they end up being broken people with neither the skills nor the capacity or even the will to live a full and meaningful life. Giving these children opportunities will make them productive people and help in their integration. It is the duty of prison authorities to provide these children with basic facilities. This is not a matter of charity, but a question of rights and prison authorities who do not deliver should be made accountable.

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Children in jails: violation of rights

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