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

July 2020

Children of Incarcerated Parents and Violence Against Children: QUNO delivers oral statement to 44th Human Rights Council

During the 44th session of the Human Rights Council, QUNO delivered an oral statement at the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, Najat Maalla M'jid. The statement, delivered by Programme Assistant Lucy Halton, highlighted the ways in which children of incarcerated parents experience violence at many levels, including the heightened risks they are encountering during the Covid-19 pandemic. QUNO also asked the Special Representative what could be done to implement the strong recommendations on children of incarcerated parents in the Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty, including the recommendation of a presumption against custodial measures for parents. 

QUNO also thanked the Special Representative for her recent report on children deprived of their liberty in Latin America and the Caribbean, which included children of incarcerated parents, and in which our partners - Plataforma NNAPEs - played a key role. 

The statement also referred to worrying data from research recently published by the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents on the impact of government responses to the pandemic on these children, including the finding that 79% of children surveyed are having increased difficulty communicating with their incarcerated parent as a result of pandemic responses. QUNO, as co-Chair of the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents, recently published a Briefing Paper outlining impacts and recommendations to states on the rights of children of parents who are incarcerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The statement is available in written format below, or can be viewed online here at Chapter 63, 01:50:31. 

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Related Areas of Work

July 2020

QUNO Joint Statement on Children of Prisoners, Role of Civil Society in protecting their rights

During the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, QUNO delivered a joint oral statement with partner Child Rights Connect, as co-convenor of the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents. The statement was delivered to the Annual Panel Discussion on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building, which this year focussed on the treatment of prisoners, in particular the implementation of the 'Nelson Mandela Rules' on the Standard Minimum Treatment of Prisoners, and the 'Bangkok Rules' for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders. The statement drew attention to the specific rights and needs of children of incarcerated parents, who too often remain overlooked even in the implementation of these rules. 

In particular, the statement drew the panel's attention to the essential role of Civil Society actors in upholding these rights and providing Technical Assistance to governments. It noted the work of Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE) members, RODA, in Croatia including working with the government to implement video visits and provide child-friendly visiting spaces, and Families Outside Scotland who act as a vital bridge sharing knowledge, information and resources between families, prison authorities and government. It also referred to the work of  Plataforma NNAPES members in Argentina in producing the National Ombudsman for Prisons report on children with incarcerated parents, and of EFry in Canada who, along with partner organisations have created tools for courts, justice system officials, and social care providers to build supportive networks for these children. The role of civil society is essential to the promotion and protection of the rights of these children.

QUNO was pleased to receive positive responses to its call for a UN interagency handbook to guide States on upholding the rights of children of incarcerated parents, which would provide much needed technical assistance, from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and Penal Reform International, and looks forward to ongoing work on this. 

The statement, delivered by QUNO's Human Rights and Refugees Programme Assistant Lucy Halton, is available to watch online here at 01:06. 

The oral statement and associated written statement are also available to read in full below. 

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May 2020

Covid-19 and the Rights of Children of Parents who are Incarcerated

The Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents, of which QUNO is co-convenor, is pleased to share a new Briefing on the Rights of Children of Parents who are Incarcerated in the context of Covid-19, with the support of Penal Reform International. 

These children already face a range of specific rights considerations, many of which have been exacerbated by the global pandemic. This paper provides both impacts and recommendations for States and other actors: these include focus on the right to family life, the right to health and hygiene, as well as measures to reduce prison populations, amongst others. 

The paper was drafted by Lucy Halton, Programme Assistant for Human Rights and Refugees, on behalf of and with input from the Working Group. 

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Related Areas of Work