Overcrowding in prisons and limited access to medical care pose a threat to the health of imprisoned children in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Terre des hommes is active in many prisons around the world and was therefore quickly able to support the criminal justice authorities in introducing preventive hygiene measures. We also advocated that children and adolescents should be able to benefit from non-custodial emergency measures. Interview with Yann Colliou, Head of the Access to Justice programme at Tdh.
What risks related to Covid-19 are children in detention exposed to?
Detention centres pose many health risks for children. The lack of space is a factor that encourages the spread of viruses. Studies have shown high rates of infectious diseases in prisons. There is an urgent need to implement alternative measures to detention to ensure the reintegration of children into their families and communities.
What has Terre des hommes done in response to the Covid-19 emergency?
Terre des hommes is active in over 70 juvenile detention centres in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. We distribute hygiene materials, repair the sanitary infrastructure and train staff with regard to the rights and specific needs of minors.
In response to the Covid-19 emergency, we have organised events to raise awareness of protection and hygiene measures to combat the spread of the virus. Our teams have distributed telephone credits and set up communication systems to enable children and young people to stay in contact with their families during the lockdown. Our psychologists offer them support from a distance. In addition, we have planned to create online educational activities. Together with other organizations, we have called on states to release all detained children and adolescents, especially those in provisional custody.
How is Tdh cooperating with the authorities to accelerate the release of these children?
First of all, we are working to convince the Ministry of Justice. Then we raise the awareness of judicial actors such as prosecutors, examining magistrates and presidents of courts to the risks to which detained children are exposed and the benefits of non-custodial measures. In parallel, we work with the prison administration and the social services of prisons to update the files of detained children and complete social investigations. We present our recommendations for the application of non-custodial measures to the relevant judicial officials.
What are the results of Terre des hommes' plea?
We have succeeded in convincing political and legal players of the urgency of the situation and of the need to rapidly reduce the number of detained children. As a result, several hundred children in Africa, the Middle East and Europe have been released and are now being reintegrated into their communities. They have taken advantage of measures such as provisional release or acquittal when the time limits for pre-trial detention has expired.
How does the reintegration of a child happen?
In Mali, for example, Tdh acted very quickly to obtain the release of children and their reintegration into their families. We have coordinated an emergency action with several partners in the local justice system and set up a committee for the care and reintegration of children who have come into contact with the law. Their families, who are already in a complex and stressful situation due to the restrictions, the lockdown and the difficult supply situation, will receive selective material support.
During the reintegration process, Tdh works with the young people and their families to develop a life project. Influential people in their communities, such as imams, priests or community leaders, facilitate the reintegration process.
Photo credit: ©Tdh/ Ollivier Girard
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