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Women and children suffer appalling conditions in Liberia’s jails

Prisoners in Liberia are being kept in conditions that are so shameful they violate basic human rights, says a new report out today.

Inmates including women and children are packed into dirty cells without enough food, water or medical care, it said.

For children, as well as the appalling conditions all inmates endure, child prisoners often lose contact with their families and miss out on an education.

“Immediate action is needed to improve conditions, for Liberia’s prison inmates,” said rights group Amnesty, launching the report.

The West African country is struggling to overcome the effects of a long civil war and only has one court for children and no separate jails. Many children aged below 18 are tried in magistrate’s courts and held in adult prisons in separate cells.

Researchers working for Amnesty said they met several child prisoners who had been in prison for four, five or six months without trial.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Liberia signed in 1993 says children should only be held as a “last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The same legislation also guarantees every child held the right to “maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits.”

Some child prisoners said that their parents did not know where they were. “We’re just here,” said one 16-year-old boy held in Monrovia Central Prison. “Our parents don’t know.”

Others meanwhile said officers had lent them mobile phones to call their families.

Every child under 18 interviewed said that they were not getting any form of education, even if they had been in prison for months.

For women in Liberian prisons the situation is equally grim. There are no separate
women’s prisons, but women are held in blocks or cells separate from the men, although their specific needs often go unmet. There are no health checks on arrival and no confidential voluntary pregnancy testing and many women said there was a lack of sanitary products, the report said.

And all inmates suffer from the prisons’ inability to provide healthcare because they don’t have enough trained staff and essential drugs. This means conditions such as HIV and malaria often go unspotted and untreated and people often aren’t sent to hospital in emergencies. And because of chronic overcrowding – many have to sleep in shifts because there isn’t enough floor space – diseases also spread rapidly.

“In all circumstances the government has a clear and binding obligation not to expose prison inmates to conditions that constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Amnesty’s Tawanda Hondora.

Hayley attribution