More than 2,000 Bolivian children currently live in prisons. The reasons for this are complex. Often when a parent is sent to prison, it is financially impossible for their family members to take on more mouths to feed. Parents may keep children with them in the jail because they hope it will lead to an earlier release. And in fact, a number of mental health specialists have stressed that children may be better off staying with their mothers, despite all the discomforts of a prison.
A hard place to call ‘home’
Inside the prison, the children are often victims of violence and sometimes even prostitution. They have few opportunities to see the world outside the walls. The nutrition they receive is often sadly lacking.
Edith* has spent three and a half years in prison with her young son. ‘I had no other option but to take my child with me,’ she says. ‘At first it was difficult because he was very small. He wondered when we were going home and he cried a lot. I was always afraid; I felt very alone.’
Edith worked long hours in the prison laundry and kitchen to try to afford a separate cell where she and her son could stay together. When she found out about OESER’s work, it was a great relief. ‘Thanks to OESER, my son can study and is in a safe place, in better conditions than here,’ she says.
A daily release
Each morning, OESER collects 22 children from the prison and takes them to a day nursery, kindergarten or school. The minibus that picks them up is the only ‘bridge’ for them to escape from captivity to freedom during the day.
OESER provides the children with education and a safe place to play with other children. They receive a nourishing breakfast and lunch, with plenty of vegetables and fruit. When they have health problems, OESER staff take them to the hospital, psychologist or dentist. They organise special events, such as trips to the playground or games inside the prison to strengthen the children’s relationship with their mothers. Project staff also share Christian values with the children.
In the beginning it was not easy to build up a trusting relationship with the mothers in prison. But OESER staff took time to visit them, explaining the project and sharing photos and videos of the daycare centre.