lundi, novembre 21, 2005

The Prison Children of Bolivia

I absolutely love to watch BBCNews and peruse through the website when I have free time. Today, I was reading the website and came across a report that astounded, perplexed and worried me. Apparently in Bolivia, children can and many times do occupy the same prison cells as their parents, mainly because once the parent is arrested, the child(ren) have no one to take care of them. The prison system of San Pedro, the largest male prison of Bolivia, houses more than 200 children. By many accounts, on the outside looking in, many of these prisons resemble overcrowded towns --- the children are educated, fed, and play on the prison grounds.

But this arrangement seems increasingly problematic to me for a number of reasons:

  • Prisons are becoming increasingly more and more violent --these children must be witnesses to tons of violent behavior. In fact, psychologist Alejandra Canelas, who works at the day care center at San Sebastian, a woman's detention center, says that the youngsters are witnesses to violence and prostitution in prison cells
  • Psychologically, how are these children being socialized? I couldn't imagine what it would be like to grow up in a prison during one's formative years. Though some of the inmates in the prison have not been convicted of any crimes, there are many drug dealers, rapists, murderers, etc. living in close proximity to these children
  • I am also very wary about children, especially little girls, living in male detention centers --that just seems like the perfect opportunity for child abuse

The number of children living in these prisons has increased exponentially since the 1980s, after drug trafficking laws became more severe. Many claim that things would be worse for the children if they weren't living with their parents in jail because they would more than likely be street children. Then, wouldn't that call for measures to be taken by the Bolivian government to ensure that the children were being properly taken care of?

Currently, BBC News is doing a very interesting series on Latin American prisons. The prison children of Bolivia are on segment as well as features on:

  1. Overcrowding and crime behind bars in Mexican jails
  2. Imprisonment without conviction in Argentian jails
  3. Numerous jail riots in various Latin American jails

Its a very interesting series and has prompted me to do more research and fact finding.

But again, I come back to my central question, what must it be like to grow up or at least spend your formative years behind prsion with your mother or father?

circumambient-- adj. Surrounding; being on all sides; encompassing

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera