Children of Prisoners

Raising awareness about children with parents in prison, the problems they face and possible solutions, for both children living in prison with a parent and children remaining in the community.
December 2016

Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

QUNO is closely following and inputting information into a Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty.

The Study will shed light on the scale and conditions of children deprived of their liberty, identifying good practices and making recommendations for effective measures to prevent human rights violations against children in detention and reduce the number of children deprived of liberty.

As called for in UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/69/157, the Study will map out, through monitoring and evaluation analysis, how existing international laws and standards are being implemented on the ground. Through comprehensive data collection, it will also provide a consolidation of good practices and the formulation of recommendations, to support the work of States, UN agencies and other stakeholders to more effectively implement international standards. Manfred Nowak has been appointed to lead the Study, overseeing the development of an in-depth, comprehensive global report to be presented to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at its 73rd regular session in 2018.

The Study is relevant to our work on children of prisoners because it will cover all forms of deprivation of children’s liberty, making it an important opportunity to raise awareness of situations where children are detained with an incarcerated parent. At the first meeting between Manfred Nowak and the NGO Panel working on this issue, children detained with incarcerated parents was specifically listed as one of the topics to be included in the Study. It is now important that all civil society actors working on this issue coordinate effectively and contribute the necessary material to ensure that the situation of these children is fully and effectively incorporated into the Study.

All NGOs working on children of incarcerated parents are encouraged to get involved. Here are some ways to participate:

  • Join the NGO panel to be part of the coordinated advocacy campaign around the Study;
  • Send details and links of any of the following to Catherine Baker at the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) (cbaker@quno.ch) for inclusion in the Study and upcoming advocacy work:
  1. Relevant publications and examples of good practice;
  2. Academics working on this issue who should be included on the Study’s Academic Panel;
  3. Details of any relevant events in the next two years related to children detained with their parents.



Related Areas of Work

January 2017

QUNO moderated a panel event on the rights of children of incarcerated parents

QUNO organized a panel event, "The Rights of Children of Incarcerated Parents: Replicating good practice from Italy," that took place at the UN on 1 February 2017. The event was hosted by the Permanent Missions to the UN of Italy and Argentina, and the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents. 

The Italian NGO Bambinisenzasbarre signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Justice and the National Ombudswoman for Childhood and Adolescence, aimed at the fulfilment of the rights of children of incarcerated parents throughout the country. Steps are being taken to replicate this good practice in other countries. The event highlighted how this Memorandum and the partnership behind it work in practice, how this is being replicated in Argentina and lessons for replication in other States seeking to protect the rights of these children. 

Further information is available in the invitation flyer below.




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March 2017

QUNO at the Human Rights Council: a focus on children of parents facing the death penalty as victims of torture

On 1st March 2017, the annual High Level Panel on the question of the death penalty was held at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council. This year’s panel focussed on how the death penalty relates to torture.

During the panel, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment highlighted the impact of the death penalty on children:

The death penalty is… first of all, in my view, a question of life and how we define ourselves as human beings, as States and as an international community. Do we really want to retain a retributive system, deliberately inflicting pain and anguish on convicts, on their parents, on their spouses, on their children?... Or do we prefer to define ourselves on different terms, focusing not only on the inherent dignity of convicts, victims and families but also on the dignity and moral authority of our human society as a whole? ”

In light of the panel’s focus on torture, we submitted a written and oral statement at this session of the Council, highlighting that the sentencing to death or execution of a parent leads to a violation of the child’s right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT) or torture under international law. 

The written statement can be found here.

The oral statement, delivered by Catherine Baker, Programme Assistant for Human Rights and Refugees at the High Level Panel, can be found at 2.09.45 on the video of the panel.

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April 2017

6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty: new publication and website

The Quaker United Nations Office works on children of parents sentenced to death or executed first and foremost because we believe that such children should not be forgotten and their rights should be upheld.  The 2016 World Congress Against the Death Penalty recognized that the impact of a death sentence on the children of parents sentenced to death or executed represents a powerful argument against the death penalty.

This was the message QUNO brought to last year’s World Congress Against the Death Penalty, the details of which have been brought together in a new publication and website. The 6th The Congress was held in Oslo in June 2016 and was attended by QUNO’s Human Rights and Refugees team. The Congress, convened by Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM), is held every three years to bring together those working towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

The new report and website feature an article written by QUNO’s Laurel Townhead, highlighting the significant and often devastating impacts on children whose parents are sentenced to death or executed, and explaining why this can be a used as a strong argument for abolition. QUNO also wrote a briefing paper on children of parents sentenced to death or executed ahead of the event, which provides more detail on this issue.

QUNO continues to work to raise the profile of children of parents facing the death penalty at the international level. In particular, our written statement to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council held in March this year examines how children of parents sentenced to death or executed may be considered victims of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. We also look forward to participating in the next World Congress, due to take place in 2019.

Related Areas of Work

June 2017

Briefing the Committee on the Rights of the Child on children of prisoners

On 31st May 2017, the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents held a briefing and discussion with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, focussing on the rights of children of incarcerated parents.

Laurel Townhead (QUNO) and Rachel Brett (COPE member) provided an introduction, highlighting work done so far by the Committee, particularly since the Day of General Discussion in 2011. They noted that despite significant advances in understanding on this issue, implementation remains patchy and more can be done by the Committee to ensure protection of these children’s rights.

Their introductions were followed by a discussion with members of the Committee, many of whom have a long-standing commitment to this issue. The main points raised in the discussion were:

  • The need for child rights perspectives to be taken up in cases involving separation of children from their arrested or incarcerated parent, particularly by the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Consideration of how best to protect the rights of children detained with their mothers and ensuring that their best interests are met, including in the Latin American context.
  • Alternatives to imprisonment such as home detention.
  • Good practice from South Africa based on a Constitutional Court ruling setting out a test for taking the best interests of the child into account when sentencing their primary carer.
  • Protection of children and ensuring childcare arrangements are in place in situations of arrest of a parent.
  • The lack of services available in many countries for children affected by parental imprisonment, particularly health and social services.
  • Good practice examples in protecting these children’s rights, such as the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Italian Ministry of Justice, the children’s ombudsman and the main NGO working on this issue in Italy.
  • The importance of continuing to raise this in reviews and in Concluding Observations and work done with regional networks to provide the Committee with information about the situation in countries as they report.
  • The interest and possibility of a General Comment by the Committee on this issue.



For more information please see the following documents shared with the Committee members:

  • A short briefing by the QUNO on the Committee’s work to date on this issue.
  • A longer briefing paper Committee’s work on children of incarcerated parents. L. Townhead ‘Briefing Paper: Children of Incarcerated Parents International Standards and Guidance’, (2015) Quaker United Nations Office.
  • The Italian Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents’ recommendations for States based on Italian good practice.


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