October 19, 2018

"Children under five live in prison with their mothers and get no education or activities"

Many children are too young to be separated from their mother or were born in jail

Photo credit: UNICEF

Yohanna Alemayehu Hailu

Global Youth Ambassador from Ethiopia

Student volunteers started a programme in Ethiopia to help the children - and then expanded it to include juvenile inmates. 

Children in my country, Ethiopia, face countless different challenges. Unfortunately, we are not aware of some of these. 

It was not until I was given an assignment at law school to conduct research on prisoners’ rights, and I went to a local prison to do so, that I faced the terrible reality that children under five years old lived in the prison premises with their inmate mothers.

During my visit to a local prison, I witnessed female inmates openly talking about the reasons which got them incarcerated. The children were always around as their mothers discussed their crimes. 

It was clear to me everything these children see and hear in the environment they are in will affect their future. 

My fellow volunteers and I then asked the administrator of the prison if these children were receiving any nursing, education or any sort of recreational activities as children in the outside world would receive. The answer was no.

After my visit to the prison, I went to university but my observations at the prison disturbed me. I decided to ask my classmates if we could intervene, creating our own project. 

A project which will informally teach these children that there is a world outside of the prison and they should have dreams and ambitions. 

We came to an agreement to implement a programme to do this. We mobilised student volunteers who went to visit the children at the prisons weekly. 

They read the children stories, develop children’s playground activities, etc - all with the aim of occupying these children's minds as well as to encourage them to dream. 

With the continuous visits we made to the prison, we also came to the realisation that inside the prison there are juvenile offenders as young as 10 years old. These youngsters also didn’t have enough care and support. 

Incarcerated mothers of young children are often their primary or sole caregivers

Photo credit: G Matthews / Flickr

In order to try to make an impact on their lives, we started a skills-building programme for the juvenile inmates, which was also conducted by our volunteers, my fellow university students. 

The project filled a huge gap in our community because it was reaching out to the most neglected.

The programme relied solely on volunteers, who are university students. Unfortunately, some volunteers couldn’t continue to carry out their tasks due to political unrest, especially in the Oromia region, where we were conducting the programme. 

There were continuous rallies and protests in the university, so our volunteers and ourselves were forced to leave the university campus and go to our hometowns whenever protests began. 

Thus, the programme came to an end in March this year. Although that was the end for now, I plan to work on this programme in the future.

I believe that if we all try to reach out to these children with any help we can provide, the world will be closer to becoming a better place.

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