Foreign Policy Blogs

Children in Prisons

A child in prison surely sounds like a superfluous statement, for unquestionably children do not belong in prison. The word prison is often synonymous with adult, yet sadly around the globe there are some 1 million children languishing in prisons, and most of these are not some special child prison or version of juvenile detention, but adult prisons.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child the imprisonment of a child to be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” and that the child “shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age”.

Street Children in the Phil

Poverty and war often lead children to the streets and they therefore often find themselves embattled in a life of petty crime, sex trafficking, begging, etc. Life on the streets for many children quickly leads them to be placed behind bars, such as in the Philippines.

In many countries, women who are placed in prisons who have children for which they cannot find relatives to care for, are often forced to take their children with them. Children are then imprisoned along with their mothers, where they often lack access to any form of education. The lack of education on a child can be devastating and in turn create a cycle of poverty. Such a case reached the media in May when in Zambia, Kabwe Social Workers Rescue Five Children From Prison. The five children, who's ages ranged from 5 months to 4 years old, where placed in the care of local social services after they where discovered in the dire conditions of the maximum security prison. However the case in Zambia mirrors that of many other countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan and many other countries.

The issue of children in prison, or detention centers, does not even escape western nations such as the US. As discussed in the post Child Detainees, An International Crime?, children detained at the Hutto, Texas, center. Hutto was again brought to light again only today in The New Yorker article, The Lost Children: What do tougher detention policies mean for illegal immigrant families?,

Children who are either placed in prison for their own perceived crimes and those who are placed in prison along side their mothers, are not the only children affected by what many see as systems failing families, including in the US as was brought to light this month in the article, Women, children suffer from harsh prison policies, on women in detention. Many states in the US are now looking at alternative solutions including prison nurseries, halfway houses, and other programs which help mothers and children foster healthier and more substantial relationships, in order to brake the cycle of prison life in the family.

The issue of children in prisons and detention centers is complex and varied, but one thing is clear, all of these children are being denied a fundamental right to childhood! The denial of freedom has led these children to be denied the rights to education, the right to play and thus the right to a healthy and happy existence.
See former posts on children in prison and search for other countries and recent articles, including;

  • kinzi2011

    Housing children in prison just because their mother is there is wrong. Put the kid in a foster home or something, but not with their mother; who has apparently already screwed up the child’s life. Why damage a kid even more than he/she already has to be?

  • Herman

    A prison cannot change a person. They need to be changed from the inside – mentally, a paradigm shift needs to be introduced, spiritualy – only God can change a person. I’m involved in a program called Character Transformation, to instill good moral values into our children, who are the leaders of tomorrow. They need to get into a program like this so that they can become role models in our society. There is a massive lack of role models in our societies. The drug lords and corrupt leaders in all spheres of life does not make it any easier for us as parents to raise our children in this new age generation. Put these children through a universial program – mentally, spiritualy and physicaly ( a child in sport is a child out of court ), and you’ll see that they as well as all of us have a better future.


Cassandra Clifford
Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict