Children ‘serving’ with their mothers
We knew that the number of children serving jail sentences with their mothers was around 400; we learned the exact figure of 476 from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.
“My child asked for a bicycle; it was not possible. He has not seen a park. Only after the crèche was opened did he see a park for the first time. I buy chocolate for him whenever I can. Popsicles are not allowed because of their sticks. Balloons are not allowed. He wants them. He does not know this place is a prison. He does not know I am a convict…” This was written by Yasemin Güneri two years ago in daily Habertürk.
Children stay with their mothers in prisons until they are 6 years old. Then, if they have a family or friends to look after them, they are “released” or they are transferred to “institutions.”
In prisons, they are not properly fed; they do not have a healthy environment. Only in exceptional situations do they get to see the sun. They cannot attend preschool. They do not have any guidance support. They do not even have a place to sleep.
Because there is not even adequate place to walk in the dormitories, they sleep in the same bed as their mothers. The environment is not suitable; they witness fights that sometimes end in serious injuries. There is no filter for violent language and curses.
If there is a crèche, they are lucky. This is the only place where they can be with their peers.
Children who are under 4 are sometimes taken out by their relatives but this is a rare situation.
A woman convict who said she killed her husband during a fight to protect herself and her child, said: “My family rejects the child because they think he was the cause of the murder. I don’t have clothes for him. My family, even though they are well off, does not provide clothes for him. I take three anti-depressants a day. My family took my child out once. They did not want to do it again…”
Circumstances are tough in all senses. Baby food is difficult to obtain, so are toys. “I cannot meet the needs of my child. I cannot buy him fruit yogurt. His diapers and food are supplied. They give us a box of baby food a month, whereas two boxes are needed weekly. The child does not have toys. He plays with cigarette packs.”
Another mother said, “Because she cannot see the sun, there are wounds on her face. This is because of a lack of vitamins. Cooking is our biggest need. Even if it is for two hours a day, children should be allowed outside.”
Children in prisons cannot receive proper education. On paper, they are educated and I would like to believe this with all my sincerity but the reality is different. There is no support between the ages 0 to 3. Between 3 and 6, if there is one, they can attend the kindergarten in the prison for “certain hours.”
It is apparent that there are many things that need to be done for these children who are molded by trauma, violence, poverty and obscenity.
There may be other victims of justice but if are looking for the real victims, we should look at these minor, innocent children behind the bars.
(If you want to find out what you can do, if you want more details, if you think you can contribute, there is a website you can visit. I met the civil society initiative “İçerde Çocuk Var” (Children Inside) launched by 24 volunteers through my musician friends Mehmet Erdem and Can Gox. They are working to improve the situation of children who are “serving” with their mothers and meet their needs. You can reach them at www.icerdecocukvar.com.)