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Article published by VICE México .
What are the repercussions of growing up in a prison?
When this day is over, about 700 children will have gone to bed inside a Mexican prison. Not because they are criminals, but because their mothers broke the law. These are minors who were with them at the time of their arrest, or who were procreated behind bars, and who today suffer from the deplorable conditions of Mexican prisons. They are the invisible children of the National Penitentiary System.
Each day of confinement implies for them to be exposed to a climate of constant violence . Not to receive medical assistance, food or education. To fall frequently from the bunk beds assigned to them and even to witness sexual encounters during their mothers’ conjugal visits .
According to the latest diagnostic study on this subject, conducted by the civil association Reinserta and the National Institute of Women (Inmujeres) , the evidence shouts that the life of any child inside a prison is not healthy. However, being together is a universal right that mothers and themselves possess.
According to the findings of this research, carried out in 11 women’s penitentiary centers around the republic, this experience leaves in the children various emotional, psychological and even physical ravages, which will surely accompany them throughout their lives.
Prisons designed for men
As serious as it is, the issue has been little explored, that says a lot about the current state of affairs. Elena Azaola, one of the most recognized researchers and activists in the field, is sure that this is the result of a complex sum of factors. One of the most important: that of the masculinization of prisons.
“The prison system, like others, is governed primarily by a male model in which the rule is dictated and follows from the needs of men and where women become an appendix that is added to that model” , He says.
The figures support this argument: of the total of the almost 233 thousand people currently in prison in Mexico, only 5.2 percent – that is, just over 12 thousand – are women.
This has meant that, always, the reflectors point to the overwhelming majority of men, and that it is enough to look at “the architectural design of the prisons, the distribution of their spaces, as well as the norms, speeches and manuals that explain their functioning ”, to realize that the conditions of the inmates, and of the children who live with them, are in a very distant second – or third, or fourth – term.
However, before the situation was even worse. Before 2016, the rules for the detention of these children were not even set. It was until after that date, and from the pressure of organizations such as Reinserta, that the National Law of Criminal Execution emerged, where these minorities were already regulated.
Thereafter, it was established that the maximum age of permanence of children with their mothers in prison is three years, and their right to health, food, education and their inclusion in Child Development Centers (CENDI) was recognized.
All the states of the republic had a limit on November 30 to comply with and approve those rules, but so far it has not happened.
Most of the support for these children is carried out by their mothers, who must necessarily work inside the prisons; another comes from donations from civil organizations and – a small fraction – from the government.
CENDIs exist in very few prisons, so that children’s access to education and healthy recreation are not guaranteed either. Many of these children spend all day with their mothers, eventually exposed to quarrels, escape attempts and even riots, which jeopardize their integrity.
A related investigation, but carried out in Argentina by specialized therapists, found that due to the fact that they were infants so small and with a cerebral configuration – and even body – so malleable, these environments could affect them in their development.
In addition to the fact that while they are in prison they do not acquire tools to confront the world, they discovered that they also develop a high propensity to learn behaviors that could lead them to commit crimes in the future, as well as to present emotional problems, and even lower heights and overweight.
The list could continue to grow, but there is another issue that has not been deepened and is equally important: that of children who, due to different circumstances, live outside the prisons where their mothers are. What’s up with them?
To be released
The inclusion of ‘invisible childhood’ to the prison map was a small great battle won. However, of the children who remain under the care of their relatives, or of some dependence on external assistance, there is almost no information. Virtually all that is known about them is when they visit their mothers on penalties, in case they have the possibility and the resources to travel and do so.
No one has taken care of censoring them. And this also harms them, marginalizes them and goes against their fundamental rights, according to the study by Reinserta and Inmujeres.
This leads us to think that, then, the number ‘invisible children’ is much higher than reported, since it only takes into account those living in confinement. The real figure extends far beyond the bars, where there are no mothers, where the shortcomings could be even worse.
The efforts of more and more activists to put this topic at the center of the discussion have paid off, but much remains to be done. As long as there are prisons designed for men in the country, and as long as the authorities do not do something about it, and about many other things, there will be more than 700 children who continue to sleep every night in penalties. And also out of them.
Follow Ollin Velasco on Twitter and Instagram: @ollinvelasco .
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