Bhubaneswar: The plight of dozens of children of undertrial and convicted mothers in Odisha recently highlighted by media has caught to attention of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Taking suo motu cognizance of the media reports, the Commission has served notices on Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Prisons of all States and Union Territories (UTs) seeking reports along with statistics showing how many children are being kept with their mothers in jails under their jurisdiction without ensuring facilities, necessary for psychological and physical growth as well as educational upbringing.
The States and UT’s have been asked to submit their response within six weeks.
According to an RTI reply, 46 children between the age group of two months and six years have been denied the facilities and life support they are entitled to, in Odisha. Some of these children are living under the duress of forced separation from their mothers while others are languishing within the dark confines of prison walls.
These children, lodged in jails with their mothers, are entitled to food, shelter, medical care, clothing, education and recreational facilities as per the Supreme Court (SC) guidelines.
According to the reports by the Directorate of Prisons and Correctional Services, Government of Odisha, these children include 25 girls and 21 boys belonging to nine convicted and 36 undertrial women prisoners. Out of the 45 prisoner mothers, 30 belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“The content of the media reports, if true, amounts to human rights violations of the innocent children. The guidelines set by the Supreme Court are very clear about providing proper protection to such children but the ground reality appears different,” the NHRC said.
“The instant news report is focused on the prisons in Odisha. However, there could be similar cases in the jails of other States too, which have not yet been noticed,” it added.
The SC has formulated guidelines that the cases of women prisoners with children, should be disposed of expeditiously but, NHRC said, the reality is different. There are many inmates who have been granted bail by the competent court but they have not been freed because of their inability to furnish the sureties.
The guidelines set by the apex court also ensure that the children below three years shall be allowed in crèche and those between 2 and 3 years, should be looked after in a nursery, run by the prisons authorities, outside the prison premises and that small children should not be kept in sub-jails, unless facilities are ensured for their biological, psychological and social growth.
A particular case of a couple, who was taken into judicial custody on May 18, 2008. Three months after her arrest, the wife delivered a baby girl in the jail. The mother with her newly born baby was kept under solitary conferment and no proper diet and massage oil etc. for the baby were provided by the jail authorities till she went on strike. They lived in four jails and their experience in raising a child in prison was reportedly painful. After spending about nine years in jails, the couple was finally acquitted by the court in all cases last year, the NHRC added.