NHRC seeks report on children lodged in jails with their mothers

New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked all states and union territories to furnish a report on how many children are kept with their mothers in the jails under their jurisdiction without ensuring basic facilities.

NHRC’s directive came after it took suo motu cognizance of a media report about the plight of 46 boys and girls, who are living in prisons in Odisha with their mothers, including 9 convicted and 36 undertrial prisoners.

The children, aged between one month and six years, lodged in the jails with their mothers, are neither convicts nor under trials and they are entitled to food, shelter, medical care, clothing, education and recreational facilities but nothing is being provided to them despite the Supreme Court guidelines.

The Commission has observed that the contents of the media report, if true, amount to human rights violations of the innocent children.

The guidelines set by the Supreme Court are very clear providing proper protection to such children but as reported, it appears, the ground reality is different.

The instant news report is focused on the prisons in the State of Odisha. However, there could be similar cases in the jails of other States too, which have not yet been noticed.

Accordingly, the Commission has issued notices to the Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Prisons of all the States and UT’s calling for reports along with statistics showing how many children are being kept with their mothers in the jails under their jurisdiction without ensuring facilities, necessary for psychological and physical growth as well as educational upbringing.

The response from all the States and UT’s is expected within six weeks.

According to the media report carried on the 20th May, the Directorate of Prisons and Correctional Services, Government of Odisha, these children include 25 girls and 21 boys belonging to 9 convicted and 36 undertrial women prisoners.

Out of the 45 prisoner mothers, 30 belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities.

As reported, the Apex Court has formulated guidelines that the cases of women prisoners with children, should be disposed of expeditiously but the reality is different. There are many inmates who have been granted bail by the competent Court but they cannot be freed as they are unable to furnish the sureties.

The guidelines set by the Apex Court also ensure that the children below three years shall be allowed in crèche and those between 2-3 years, should be looked after in a nursery, run by the prisons authorities, outside the prison premises and those small children should not be kept in sub-jails, unless facilities are ensured for their biological, psychological and social growth.

A particular case of a couple has been referred in the news report, who was taken into judicial custody on 18th May 2008. Three months after her arrest, the wife delivered a baby girl in the jail. The mother with her newly born baby was kept under solitary conferment and no proper diet and massage oil etc. for the baby were provided by the jail authorities till she went on strike.

They lived in four jails and their experience in raising a child in prison was reportedly painful. After spending about 9 years in jails, the couple was finally acquitted by the Court in all cases last year.