Children of incarcerated parents are forgotten victims of imprisonment. They are overlooked by criminal justice systems that fail to see them as rights holders.
When a mother or father goes to prison, their children are affected, often adversely.
Imprisonment of one or both of a child’s parents can result in serious and enduring negative effects for the child, including social exclusion, greater financial difficulties, and what can be perceived as abandonment and rejection, particularly when family members and carers conceal the truth of the parent’s whereabouts. It can lead to worse behaviour and achievement in school and affect the child’s mental and physical health.
Children who have had little contact with the imprisoned parent may find their lives are largely unchanged, while some may benefit from being separated from parents who behave dangerously or disturbingly. Every child is different and will cope differently, but the effects on children, good or bad, are rarely considered in criminal justice processes.
The failure to consider or consult children of imprisoned parents at all stages of the criminal justice process – from arrest, to trial, to imprisonment, to release, to rehabilitation into the community – can result in their rights, needs and best interests being overlooked or actively damaged.
The Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents
The Working Group was established to support the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its preparations for the 2011 Day of General Discussion on children of incarcerated parents. Following this success, the Working Group has continued to raise awareness about children with parents in prisons at the Human Rights Council, as well as among UN treaty bodies, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and regional and national bodies.
The Working Group aims to provide a link between those working directly with children of incarcerated parents and the UN, particularly its human rights mechanisms to:
- ensure that the development of international standards is informed by children’s realties
- enable those working with and for children of incarcerated parents to use international standards to support their advocacy and practice
The Working Group also provides a space for good practice to be shared between countries and regions leading to improved recognition of the needs of children of incarcerated parents and realisation of their rights.