Insecure futures: A confined childhood

Absence of social security system for children of female prisoners who die remains overlooked. PHOTO: AFP/FILE Absence of social security system for children of female prisoners who die remains overlooked. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Absence of social security system for children of female prisoners who die remains overlooked. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: Going through dark, putrid corridors of Adyala Jail, the central prison in Rawalpindi, the gloom of young jailbirds is palpable. Born in prisons to mothers who live behind iron bars, many of them have never breathed in the sweet air of freedom.

Scores of children born to Pakistani female prisoners across the country have insecure futures with no proper social security system that could make sure that these children remain secure and well-looked after if they lose their mothers.

The cell where just a few days back 35 years old *Halima passed away seems to tell her hitherto untold story. She has left behind her 6-year-old daughter *Nazia, who was born in prison. Inmates are clueless about where Nazia is now. An inmate quoted Halima as saying “If I die here in confinement, who will take care of my daughter? I had a love marriage, going completely against the will of my parents. My in-laws will never accept her.”

A real dilemma exists regarding such children who have no clear future ahead, in jail or outside. Denied education, normalcy of life and social freedom, they suffer for no fault of their own.

A prison official told The Express Tribune that “despite having sympathies for such children we are helpless. While in jail, we try to keep them safe and busy in activities, but once they leave the prison cell, we cannot save them from beasts roaming free in society.”

He added that “NGOs are merely doing lip-service for the social security of these children; they visit jails just to appease international donors for the sake of funds but I have never seen any organisation securing even a single child’s future.”  Subsequently, many of these vulnerable children “join criminals for food and shelter and afterwards they end up becoming criminals themselves,” he said.

Vulnerable group

“Women prisoners with children are at predominant risk, both from male prisoners and from male prison guards,” said another jail official. “In the absence of social service and a safety net, children who are subject to sexual abuse or exploitation face the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and associated physical, mental and emotional health issues.”

Unavailability of data and law

There is a dearth of data about such children in the country.

A study revealed that there were 3,861 cases of child sexual abuse across the country in 2012 and majority of these children had no guardian at all.

According to the latest numbers from the Human Rights Ministry, in five jails observed across the country, there were more than 107 such children confined with their mothers who have no social service being provided to them from the NGOs and development sector.

Lack of trust shown by the imprisoned mothers on the child-protection programmes offered by the state is another big snag. Legally, at age five, the children are supposed to leave the prison, but many children continue living there as mothers do not trust anyone.

“A children-specific legislation was introduced in Punjab ten years ago, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa passed the child protection bill three years back, Sindh two years back, while Balochistan and Fata are yet to make any progress in this regard. Punjab is the only province that has enforced The Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004 and established a body under it but the rest of the provinces did not move further,” said human rights Advocate Mohsin Kayani.

In his opinion “if a child’s guardian in prison dies, the superintendent should contact the city administration head to hand the child over and should not get rid of the child in haste. The child should also not be given to someone for adoption purposes without verification.”

 

source : The Express Tribune

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