ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday November 4, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 23

No fairy tales but scary stories

Plight and pain of prison children

By Isuri Kaviratne, Pix by Saman Kariyawasam.

Children living in prison with their convicted mothers belong to the innocent victims’ category as they had not committed any crimes. However, the children there had created their own world surrounded by the high walls of the prison. Amil, Chanuka, Chamith, Sewwandi, Tharu and little Daneesha are some children who attend the pre-school in prison. Most of them are four or five years old and like any other child, they too sing, dance, quarrel and play as they learn letters and practice for their pre-school concert which is due this month.

Chanuka and Sewandi reading a paper.

Keeping the children under control and teaching them is not an easy task as the opportunities are many for them to learn the jargon used by their mothers and other inmates. Nilmini Perera, the teacher of these innocent victims said some children who came to prison when they were three or four years old know that they are in prison but there are others who have no idea where they are.

She said they respect and love very much the people who show them the slightest sign of love and affection. Some of the children are untidy and not clean as the environment they grow in does not require cleanliness. “You should not mind that as you are working with children in a very sensitive situation. So, every morning I get all the children who have not washed in the morning to do so first,” Nilmini said.

“Most of the kids come to prison when they are two or three years old while those who are four or five years old when they come to prison are not educated at all,” the teacher said explaining that she introduces the alphabet to the children in the pre-school but do not make them write. She said there are some mothers who like to see their children educated and encourage them to continue their education when they leave the prison but there are some mothers who only use their children as pawns to earn money.

Children are permitted to live with their mothers only till they are five years old but Nilmini said even though some children are more than five years old they are not sent away.“They feel lost if they are detached from their mothers at once. Most of the times, they are sent to orphanages as no relatives come forward to accept them,” she said.

Vajira Wijegoonawardena Kumari Rathnaweera,

Tharu had been nine years old when her mother was convicted. She had come to prison with her mother as she had nowhere else to go. She had not been to school at all but during the five months she had been in prison she had learnt the alphabet and can write some letters as well.“Normally she should be in Grade 4 and she is too old to stay in prison. But so far, we have not sent her away because if we detach her from her mother with whom she had lived for a long time, it will affect her severely,” the teacher said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Vajira Wijegoonawardena said through experience it has been found that children who stayed in prison with their mothers have a tendency to come back to prison after committing crimes.“We are planning to remove the mothers to a separate prison where we’ll be able to maintain a healthy environment for the children and where they’ll be able to lead a normal life. Convicted women wear white in prison. We want to change that practice and let them wear coloured clothing and make their children lead as normal a life as possible,” he said.

Kumari Rathnaweera, the chief jailor of the female ward said there are 36 children in prison and two teachers for them - one from Sarvodaya who had been working for 10 years in the prison pre-school and the other from the Rotary Club who had recently joined.

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