Children in Prisons: Suffering for the ‘sin’ of their Parents? (1)

It seems to be a global phenomenon for children to live in the prisons with their inmate parents.  According to Prison Fellowship International¸ ‘some children live in prison because that is where their mother, or occasionally their father, lives…Countries have legislation or guidelines that provide for this, and those usually indicate a maximum age for the child. This can range from a few months to a number of years.’ What is not global however is the condition and standards of prisons. It is common knowledge that prisons systems in the developing world have only been able to achieve the mantra of reformation of inmates as a policy. In most cases the condition and environment of prison simply dehumanizes the inmates.

In Nigeria, the state of our prisons is no more news. Most of our prisons were built many decades ago. Therefore they do not conform to the 21st century specifications of prisons. My concern here is the fact that children live with their parents in most of our prisons in Nigeria. You may be interested in asking, what makes it an issue? Well, I think the first thing that makes it an issue for me is the state of our prisons in Nigeria. It is a known fact that adults, whose immune system are fully developed are barely surviving in the prisons, not to talk of children. I also think it is the failure of our state to have children in prison with their parents as it is today. Please permit me to shed light on my assertion in the lines ahead.

How do children get to live with their parents in prison in Nigeria? I think there are two ways it happens. The first is that many of them are born in prison and the second is that some of them are taking to prison by their nursing parents, particularly mothers. A report, titled, ‘How children born in Kirikiri prisons live,’ published in The Punch of August 24, 2013, reveals, ‘one of the nursing mothers did not give birth in the prison. She said her baby was five months old when she got to the prison and had to take her along because the child was too young and nobody could take care of her. “My husband did not say ‘no’ when I told him I had to take my baby with me to the prison,” she said.’

There is a huge controversy as to how many children who are living with their parents in prisons in Nigeria. In April, 2013, many Nigerian newspapers graced their front pages with a report of the United States’ Department on Human Rights Practices for 2012 that not less than 6,000 children are in prisons across the country. In a swift attempt to debunk the report, The Controller General of Prisons, Mr. Zakari Ibrahim stated ‘ that about 69 babies are currently locked up with their mothers in the 234 prisons across the country, while 847 juvenile inmates were also said to be enclosed in the three Borstal Training Institutions located in Kaduna, Abeokuta and Ilorin.’

While it is not my business here to join forces with either of the party, it is curious that when one visits the ‘STATISTICAL INFORMATION AS AT 30TH JUNE, 2013’ page on the website of the Nigerian Prison Services (www.prisons.gov.ng) , it is completely silent on the number of children in prison, either with their parents or Borstal Training Institutions in Nigeria. If one of the purposes of statistics is for effective planning, then could we say, there is there is no adequate plan to take care of children in prisons either with their parents or Borstal Training Institutions in Nigeria? Besides, could one be tempted to think that the submission of the honourable Controller General of Prisons was an after-thought and a perfunctory official response to what the Nigerian government considers a damaging and indicting report by the United States’ Department?

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE.

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