Children – the unseen victims of the death penalty

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Children – the unseen victims of the death penalty

On Thursday, October 10 the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty will be dedicated to children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed. The theme this year is: Children: unseen victims of the death penalty.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty states that

“Today, 142 countries… are abolitionist in law or practice. While few studies have been done to quantify the number of children who have a parent who has been sentenced to death or executed, Amnesty International’s 2019 annual report stated that at least 19,336 people were known to be under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2018 and at least 690 were believed to have been executed in that year…

Frequently forgotten, children of parents sentenced to death or executed carry a heavy emotional and psychological burden that can amount to the violation of their human rights.

This trauma can occur at any and all stages of the capital punishment of a parent: arrest, trial, sentencing, death row stays, execution dates, execution itself, and its aftermath. The repeated cycles of hope and disappointment that can accompany all of these stages can have a long-term impact, occasionally well into adulthood.

Stigmatization from the community in which they live and the loss of a parent at the hands of a state all reinforce deep instability in the child’s day to day life. In line with the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (20 November 1989), the focus of this World Day is on children and their human rights.

The experience of having a parent sentenced to death affects each child differently, including children within the same family, depending on factors like their personality and circumstances, the reactions of those around them, and the wider public response to the situation, including the scrutiny of media coverage…

In international human rights law, it is a well-established principle that the best interest of the child should be a paramount consideration in any decision that impacts a child. It is therefore necessary to consider how a parent’s death sentence will impact the child and to take this into account when deciding on sentencing, commutation and pardon…

In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 24/11, in which it ‘acknowledges the negative impact of a parent’s death sentence and his or her execution on his or her children’ and urges States ‘to provide these children with the protection and assistance they may require’.

In 2018, the Human Rights Committee’s general comment No 36 made an explicit recommendation for States not to execute parents of young and dependent children: ‘States parties … should … refrain from executing parents to very young or dependent children’.”

In June 2018 the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that the mandatory death penalty as stated in section 2 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, Ch 141, for persons convicted of murder in Barbados is unconstitutional.

The CCJ stated that savings clauses, which had ‘saved’ the mandatory death penalty in Barbados, should be condemned. Laws should not be “calcified to reflect the colonial times”.

The same savings clause exists in T&T’s Constitution, and with this CCJ judgement, T&T remains the only English-speaking country in the Caribbean that imposes the mandatory death penalty.

Once again the CCSJ invites T&T’s government to approve the necessary reforms to overrule the mandatory death penalty. While we stand in solidarity with the victims of crime, let’s promote respect for all lives.

In observation of World Day, the CCSJ, in collaboration with the Greater Caribbean for Life and RED Initiatives, and with the support of the Delegation of the European Union, UWI Faculty of Law, St Augustine Campus, and Amnesty International, have organised a panel discussion on this year’s theme on Thursday, October 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Church of the Assumption Parish Hall, 70 Long Circular Road, Maraval. Entrance is free.

The moderator will be Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Dean, Faculty of Law, UWI, St Augustine Campus. Panel speakers will be:

– Ambassador Aad Biesebrook, the Delegation of the European Union, Keynote Speaker

– Rhonda Gregoire-Roopchan, Deputy Director, Care Services, Children’s Authority

– Gerard Wilson, Commissioner of Prisons

– Alloy Youk See, PRO, Social Workers’ Association and former Senior Prison Officer

– Andrew Douglas, Lifer, Maximum Security Prison, Arouca

– Leela Ramdeen, Chair, Catholic Commission for Social Justice & Member, Greater Caribbean for Life.


The Social Justice column is written By Leela Ramdeen: Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

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