Areas of Work

Children of Prisoners

Children are deeply affected when a parent is imprisoned. Yet millions of affected children worldwide are overlooked at every stage of the criminal justice process, and there are no international standards on how countries should act to protect their rights and welfare.

Children can face stigma from friends and others in the community. They can experience difficulties in maintaining contact with incarcerated parents, and face financial hardship. Practice around the world varies considerably, and there is much potentially good practice, such as police officers who conduct arrests in child-friendly ways, judges who consider the impact of potential sentences on children, prison administrations that organise child-friendly visiting arrangements and schools or NGOs that support the child on the outside.

QUNO has published groundbreaking research on this issue since 2005, highlighting practices worldwide relating to children living in prison with a parent, as well as to children who remain outside during parental incarceration, and more recently on issues relating to children of parents facing the death penalty. QUNO was also a partner in the COPING Project, a three-year investigation looking at the mental health of children of prisoners.

Developing out of this research, QUNO has also pioneered work that highlights issues affecting the children of parents sentenced to death or executed. These children are the hidden victims of the death penalty, often experiencing the sentencing or execution of their father or mother as severe psychological and emotional trauma. These devastating consequences of the death penalty tend to receive little attention in criminal justice systems and the children are often left unsupported. We have published several significant pieces of research on this topic and continue to raise the issue at the international level.

Ongoing Activities

  • Developing awareness, at national and international levels, of the rights and well-being of children whose parents are in detention and of children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed.
  • Working with the UN human rights mechanisms and treaty bodies, especially the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to further acknowledge the rights of these children and to promote good practice.
  • Disseminating the findings and recommendations of the COPING project research.
  • Convening a Child Rights Connect working group of partner organisations working on children of incarcerated parents around the world and maintaining this working group’s database of relevant Committee on the Rights of concluding observations 
  • Working with partner organisations to provide information about children detained in prison with a parent into the UN’s global study on children deprived of their liberty.


Recent Timeline Events

March 2020

New Briefing Paper: Children of Incarcerated Parents International Standards and Guidance

Children of incarcerated parents continue to face a range of challenges to the full respect for and enjoyment of their rights. QUNO's new briefing paper provides an update to our previous publication, offering an overview of the international legal standards applicable to these children. The paper is designed to promote the rights of these children, to aid States and other actors in ensuring that these rights are protected in practice, and to contribute to contribute to improving standards. This update incorporates information from legal instruments, treaty bodies, and other guidance from the United Nations and regional systems in both human rights and criminal justice fields.

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March 2020

QUNO delivers statement on children of parents accused or convicted of association with designated terrorist groups

QUNO Geneva delivered a statement at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council this March, as part of a discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism. The statement, delivered by Programme Assistant for Human Rights and Refugees Lucy Halton, built upon QUNO’s years of work on children of incarcerated parents by focussing on the rights of children of parents accused or convicted of association with designated terrorist groups.

In the statement QUNO drew attention to some of the specific issues these children face, such as their right to be protected from discrimination, including on the basis of the actions of their parents, and noted that blanket policies which detain or punish these children violate this right. It also noted every child’s right to a nationality, and the importance of enabling children to re-enter their own country, regardless of what their parents have done. QUNO asked the Special Rapporteur what measures were needed to better protect the rights of these children, and whether this could be explored in a future report.

This statement was informed by QUNO’s recent work on these children: our briefing paper on Key Human Rights Concerns for Children of Parents Accused or Convicted of Association with Designated Terrorist Groups.

The full statement is available to read below, and can be viewed online here from 00:25:39 onwards.

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March 2020

QUNO Geneva speaks at the Human Rights Council on Child Rights and Criminal Justice

QUNO Geneva delivered a statement on the importance of ensuring that the rights of children are respected in criminal justice systems during the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

The statement provided an opportunity to draw attention to the recent publication of QUNO’s updated briefing paper, ‘Children of Incarcerated Parents: International Standards and Guidelines’, which provides up-to-date information drawn from legal instruments, treaty bodies, and other relevant UN and regional guidance on the rights of these often overlooked children.

QUNO’s statement, delivered by Human Rights and Refugees Programme Assistant Lucy Halton, also drew the Council’s attention to the upcoming UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, in Kyoto this April, and the excellent opportunity it provides to concretely contribute to mainstreaming child rights in criminal justice systems.

The full version of the statement is available to read below.

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