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Imprisoned mothers in Iran fear ‘Being forgotten’

What do imprisoned mothers in Iran fear the most? ‘Being forgotten’
Elahe Amani with Lys Anzia – WNN – 14 May, 2012

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(WNN) Tehran, IRAN: Built in 1971 Evin prison, in Iran’s capital city of Tehran, is a place where incarceration for prisoners brings with it depression, frustration and isolation. Prisoners who are mothers often have a secret, but haunting fear of ‘being forgotten’ by the children they have left behind at home.

Imprisonment is not easy in Iran. It impacts women differently than it does men, where impunity can cause women to face increased fears of sexual advance, violence and intimidation in prison. Many women prisoners also have specific needs that relate to female health and psychological trauma. Prisoners who are also mothers have added needs because of worry about their children.

Worldwide the sentence for mothers in prison may, or may not, include their children being allowed to stay with them while they are incarcerated. In the Netherlands women prisoners may keep their children close during their detention, but until their child’s fourth birthday. But after this their children must find a place to stay outside the prison settings.

In Sweden children and babies are rarely allowed to stay with their imprisoned mothers. An exception is made though for babies up to three months old. This means, even with a special exception, no child is allowed to stay with their mother past the first year.

Afghanistan’s prison law allows children to stay in prison with their mothers up to the age of seven. In contrast, many women prisoners of conscience in Iran are not allowed to see or visit their children for weeks following their arrival in prison. If children and relatives are allowed, they may only come to see their mother on very limited visits.

In Cape Town, South Africa a new initiative to make mothers in prison and their children ‘child-friendly’ environments where children and mothers can be together in a natural and creative environment. The goal is to keep mother and child together and happy for at least two years.

With increasing women prisoners in Federal and State prisons, mothers are often sent to detention facilities that are too far away for their families to come visit them very often. Inside the U.S., an epidemic of mothers who have been incarcerated in private prisons because of their ‘illegal status’ as immigrants (most from Mexico or other regions in Latin America) are also causing children to be separated immediately from their mothers while they await deportation. Some mothers choose instead to wait for the U.S. government to process their legal plea against deportation.

Iran human rights defender Narges Mohammadi

In the middle of the night on June 9, 2010, thirty-nine-year-0ld human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi was taken away under arbitrary arrest by Iran security officials as they raided her home. The invasion came without a search warrant. Mohammadi was then taken away and placed in solitary confinement for three weeks. This prison confinement was broken only after Narges began suffering from a debilitating and mysterious condition which still plagues her. Today, even with hospital visits, she suffers from an undiagnosed ‘epilepsy-like’ disease that causes uncontrolled fainting, paralysis and injury.

A mother’s stress in prison can be overwhelming. “The rights of mothers and children to family life require special consideration,” says a handbook on good prison management by the International Centre for Prison Studies, which works with experts in human rights and prison reform. “Punishment [in prison] shall not include a total prohibition on family contact,” emphasizes the handbook. “In most societies women have primary responsibility for the family, particularly when there are children involved. This means that when a woman is sent to prison the consequences for the family which is left behind can be very significant,” added the report. …more

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