Lightening the Load of the Parental Death Penalty on Children
From the report's introduction:
One of the little-asked questions in debates over the death penalty is what happens to the children of the offender. The arrest, sentencing and (potential) execution of a parent affect children greatly, but they receive little consideration and less support.
Some of the impacts on children of parents sentenced to death or executed are similar to those experienced by children of prisoners more generally. These include how they experience the arrest and trial of a parent, some of the issues around visiting a parent in prison, and considerations about what they are told and when. Even in these cases, children of parents sentenced to death may experience the issues at greater intensity or with additional aspects that other children of prisoners do not face. But there are also areas where the nature of the death penalty itself, and the procedures accompanying it, mean the experiences of these children are categorically different from those of their peers.
These include dealing with the execution itself, and learning to continue living after the execution in the knowledge that a parent has been killed by the State.
This paper begins by providing some basic information about children of parents sentenced to death, issues that persist through the whole of a parent’s interaction with the criminal justice system. Next, it looks at issues that are similar to those faced by other children of prisoners, but focuses on the ways in which children of parents sentenced to death are different. For a more detailed account of the situation of children of prisoners worldwide, including recommendations and examples of good practice, read QUNO’s 2012 paper Collat-
eral Convicts. Thirdly, the fundamentally different issues are considered, those only children of parents sentenced to death experience. There are a limited number of recommendations included throughout: these are not intended to be comprehensive, instead only covering those areas where there is already clarity about a positive way forward.
This paper is part of an ongoing project by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in Geneva. Having examined the rights and needs of children of prisoners since 2004, QUNO only began to focus on children of parents sentenced to death after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 2011 Day of General Discussion. During that discussion, focused on ‘children of incarcerated parents’, this issue was raised by Amnesty International, and noted as an area needing greater attention. QUNO published Children of Parents Sentenced
to Death in February 2012 as an initial response, and subsequently undertook additional research on the subject, sent a short questionnaire to all governments with a Mission to the UN in Geneva, and convened an expert workshop of practitioners. Workshop participants came from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and North America, and brought psychological, legal, therapeutic, academic, policy and practical experience. They included representatives of a number of NGOs, including Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, Penal Reform International, Reprieve and Wells of Hope.
It is from these sources, plus the work of Helen Kearney on earlier versions of this paper, that this publication is drawn. The information and revisions from expert workshop participants strengthened the content of the paper enormously; the financial support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs enabled its production, translation and printing.
This paper looks at many issues, but the group it focuses on is tightly limited. It covers only the natural or adopted children of the offender, only those under 18, and only those whose parent is sentenced to death or executed in accordance with the criminal law of jurisdiction they are in. The impact on adult children (including children who become adults during their parent’s trial or imprisonment on death row), the situation of other children related to the offender (such as siblings, nephews and nieces, grandchildren and step-children), and children whose parent is executed extrajudicially, are not covered. They very likely have similarities with the children here, and like them deserve further attention, research and support.
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