But as Hagar is learning, hundreds of children live with their parents in jail. They have little food, disease runs rampant, sanitation is poor, and opportunities for the future like schooling and work placements are non-existent. That doesn’t begin to address the challenges for parents and children in reintegrating into community post-sentence. Bearing the scarlet letter of incarceration, it can be devastating.
Chaly’s story illustrates the complexities of this “toughest of human conditions.”
At 12 years of age, she’s experienced so much. When her mother was incarcerated for drug trafficking, she went to live with her relatives. But, after a terrible incident in the community, she asked to live with her mom in jail.
Chaly refuses to tell the story of what happened. She denies rape, though that is what her mother suspects. Whatever it was, it was traumatizing, so traumatizing and horrible that she begged to go to prison – with its lack of food, privacy and sanitation. Once there, she stayed close to her mom and refused to go to school out of fear. Government officials attempted to transfer Chaly and her brother to a local orphanage, but they soon ran away back to the prison.
For Chaly and her family, there is such profound vulnerability. Before moving into the prison with her mom, she and her siblings were vulnerable. Sitting outside of the traditional Cambodian family unit, carrying with them the stigma of their mother being a criminal, the potential for abuse was critical. In prison, Chaly and her siblings were unable to access any services – education, basic health care, nutritious food – making them vulnerable both in the present and the future.
Just a few months ago, Chaly’s mother was released after a one-year sentence. She and her children now face the challenge of integrating into a community with few connections, the stigma of a prison sentence, a traumatized child, and little education or economic opportunities.
They are the toughest of human conditions. They are Hagar and Ishmael. And Hagar in Cambodia is exploring opportunities to walk the whole journey with these women and children to recovery.
In April 2012, 90 children and seven pregnant women were in prison with no support. This included a two-year-old child whose mother is sentenced to 30 years.
Hagar pursues the highest degree of care and protection for each of its clients. To protect the identity of our clients, names have been changed and image do not necessarily represent the individual profiled.