Human rights abused as children are imprisoned along with a parent

January 25, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov

Imprisonment has traumatic effects on innocent children and no society should permit such injustice

A tattooed Afghan woman, Shirin Gul, looks down protectively at her 11-year-old daughter, Meena, who gazes lovingly back at her. Although Meena’s eyes hold only loyal affection for her mother, Ms. Gul, a mentally ill inmate, displays a selfish possessiveness rooted in the desire for freedom.

The New York Times reported that there are at least 333 children in Afghanistan who are incarcerated along with a parent. Despite committing no crime, the children are treated like criminals, subject to poor conditions, including meager food rations and constant violence.

While freedom is definitely a possibility for Meena, Ms. Gul has no chance for a life outside barbed wire and foreboding steel gates. In 2004, she was sentenced for life in the Nangarhar Women’s Prison in Jalalabad, Afghanistan for the murder of 27 Afghan men.

Her fate could have even more dismal: death by hanging. All five of her criminal counterparts had not been as lucky as Ms. Gul, who had avoided execution due to her pregnancy.

After giving birth to her Meena, Ms. Gul began raising her child behind bars. Thus, Meena has never known life outside  a cell block; she has never seen a TV or attended a full-time school, which would provide her the opportunities for success in life.

While Ms. Gul rightfully deserves the full extent of her punishment, Meena doesn’t. To her credit, Meena showed no signs of aggression in an interview with a Times reporter, a stark contrast to her mother, who spat, “I should get ISIS to come and cut off your head,” and demanded money.

Unfortunately, children often grow up as a reflection of their parents, with their personalities shaped by the way they are raised. According to, contact with an emotionally unstable adult increases a child’s risk of developing psychological and behavioral problems.

Caregivers should provide examples of good conduct and raise their children to behave morally with respect to the law. Ms. Gul is in no state to do that.

She is reported to repeatedly exhibit aggressive behavior, in accordance to her mental health problems and abusive nature. The story quoted Ms. Gul saying, "I'll kill you. I’m going to come over there and take out your eyes,” after which Meena gently shushed her.

As a child, Meena is not fully aware of the hinderance her mother’s crimes inflict upon her own life and the opportunities awaiting outside metal bars.

She receives minimal schooling, for the prison only provides first- to third-grade education for an hour each day.

Sadly, Meena’s case is not unique. Even though many nations have an age limit to incarcerating innocent minors along with their parents, these laws are not always strictly abided by. Afghanistan places this restriction at age 7, but Meena’s position, as well several others reported by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, reveal the faultiness of this policy.

While students from across the world, such as those in the Silicon Valley, are complaining about tests and homework, incarcerated children are receiving an education that is incapable of producing informed individuals. In the interview with AAN, another boy said that the pressure of prison left him illiterate even after completing third grade.

This inadequate schooling is insufficient in preparing children for a live outside bars.

Furthermore, imprisonment has traumatic effects on a child, including anxiety, depression and heighted aggressiveness, according to Equal Justice Initiative.

While being sent to an orphanage or another child care facility is not ideal, it is a superior option when considering the alternative: growing up like a criminal.

Such an upbringing could lead to hardships in life, including finding a job and building relationships. Mental infirmities and trauma increase the risk of a child engaging in illegal and belligerent behavior once released.

Foster care and orphanages, on the other hand, can provide positive role models for developing youth and help mature their abilities to positively interact with others. Orphanages are often compared to “dumping grounds” for neglected children; however, according to Uniting for Children, orphanages worldwide have begun the transition to family-based care, where community members are empowered to take an active role in nurturing youth. Such a system would provide vulnerable children with love and comfort.

In addition, children in child care facilities are often sent to local schools or taught by hired professionals. Orphan's Lifeline International works to provide food, shelter, medical care, Bibles, adoption advocacy, and education assistance to orphans, with education being its greatest expense. It recognizes quality schooling as fundamental to a brighter future and a successful career.

No civilized society should allow a child be jailed past breastfeeding age. It is time to raise international awareness to this unjust situation and impose strict regulations on countries that violate these common sense norms. Children whose only offense is being born to a criminal should never grow up behind bars, separated from the world by coils of barbed wire and impenetrable metal gates.