Petitioners address IACHR regarding the situation of children denied of liberty in the Americas. (Photo Credit: IACHR Flicker page
Petitioners address IACHR regarding the situation of children whose parents have been deprived of liberty in the Americas (Photo courtesy of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Commissioners: Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Rosa María Ortiz, James L. Cavallaro, and Paulo Vannuchi

Petitioners: Gurises Unidos, Uruguay / Projeto Meninos e Meninos de Rua, Brasil / Instituto de Promoción Humana (INPRHU), Nicaragua / Caminante Proyecto Educativo, República Dominicana / Asociación Civil de Familiares de Detenidos (ACIFAD), Argentina / Colectivo Artesana, Guatemala / Red Nacional de Apoyo a la Niñez y la Adolescencia (REDNANIAP), Panamá / Church World Service (CWS), Oficina Regional para América Latina y el Caribe

Facundo lives in Uruguay. He was just 13 years old when his father was taken to prison. After that, Facundo had to become the man of the house and he was no longer able to focus on his studies. Visits to the prison were hard on Facundo and his family. Although the family traveled a long distance to the prison, they were often denied total visitation access, meaning that Facundo would sometimes go seven months or more without seeing his father. Despite all this, Facundo has remained an advocate for children in similar situations, and said that the state should provide support for families with parents deprived of liberty.

Petitioners, at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on October 22, 2015, argued on behalf of 90% of people deprived of liberty in the Americas who have children. Specifically, they called attention to seven specific ways deprivation of liberty impacts children in the Americas. Petitioners claimed that deprivation of liberty affects children by (1) impeding on children’s rights and protections; (2) impacting the family and their economic situation; (3) destroying family dynamics; (4) creating negative psychological impacts on children’s development; (5) generating social stigma and discrimination against children thereby affecting their relationship with society and the community; (6) impacting children’s perception of citizenship and their interaction with the judicial system; (7) and depriving children from familial bonds, sometimes with both their mothers and fathers.

In addition, the Petitioners made sure to address current successful programs that are working to elevate the effects of depravation of children in the Americas. For example, Chile, one of the only states who have created a program to deal with these types of issues, formed “Abriendo Caminos,” which helps children who have at least one principal adult in their lives incarcerated by providing psychological counseling and tutoring. Further, in Uruguay, the Ministry of the Interior took it upon itself to create a program with the objective of addressing any issues a child is having when an adult is incarcerated throughout the whole judicial process. However, the Petitioners expressed their belief that additional research is needed regarding children with parents deprived of liberty so as to better address their needs, and the belief that this information should be publically available.

Commissioner Cavallaro, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, thanked the Petitioners for bringing up a subject such as this, which, he felt, does not receive the much needed attention it deserves. He asked the Petitioners to elaborate on the successful programs, and he inquired about children that are born to incarcerated parents. Commissioner Ortiz, Special Rapporteur for Children’s Rights, also stressed the need for other sentencing options that are not incarceration for offenders with children.

While Petitioners cited to some concrete examples in response to commissioners, such as a program in Guatemala, which allows incarcerated mothers to live with their children, they contended that more research is needed into the issue, and ensured they would continue their investigations.

Author’s Legal Analysis

There are numerous international instruments in place to address the situation of person’s deprived of liberty, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, to name a few.

This is not the first time the IACHR has devoted particular attention to the situation of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas. It was less than three years ago, in March 2013, when the Commission heard about the arbitrary and unlawful detention of children. During that hearing, Commissioner Ortiz expressed her concern that the United States had not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and she mentioned that depriving children of liberty does not safeguard them nor put them in a rehabilitative position. Although numerous special country reports, on Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Honduras, have consistently referred to the rights of persons deprived of liberty, little has changed.

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