Forced Separation: Study of Vulnerability and Stigmatization of Children of Incarcerated Mothers in India

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Written By Akshata Pai


Father of Our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in his book My Non-Violence, quoted “In independent India of the non-violent type, there will be a crime but no criminals. They will not be punished. Crime is a disease like any other malady and is a product of the prevalent social system. Therefore, all crimes including murder will be treated as a disease.”

With this quote, we can understand that poisoner need equal protection of rights and duties in the criminal system managed by our India for their well-being and social need. The article’s primary focus is on children of incarcerated mothers.

Body of the article

The children of criminals are worse as they are labeled. They are the victims, forced to suffer from forced separation, exploited for their needs, etc. Society treats them as criminals forgetting or ignoring the fact that a child has no choice or is involved in their parents’ wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court in Laxmikant v/s Union of India had mentioned that “Children are a supremely important national asset and the future well-being of the nation depends on how its children grow and develop.” It means that children of all citizens, irrespective of their parent’s background, need equal opportunities for growth in social and mental ways.

India yet needs to form welfare or mainstream policy for children of incarcerated mothers. Women consider as the foundation of the family and society in India. 

In recent times, the number of female offenders has increased in India and other countries due to economic and social disadvantages. Women prisoners are usually the primary or only caretakers for their minor children or to be born. Thus, the women imprisoned cannot be separated from their children or cannot consider in isolation. In India, the following are the conditions of Children of Women Prisoners.

  1. A child up to six years of age shall be admitted to prison with his mother if no other arrangements, for keeping him with relatives or otherwise, can be made.
  2. No child shall be admitted into or retained in prison if he has attained the age of six years. The Superintendent shall inform the Directorate of Social Welfare about all children of that age for placing them in a home run by the Social Welfare Department. Such children shall be kept in protective custody until their mother is released or the child attains such an age as to be able to earn his own livelihood.

The above conditions could lead to forced separation between the child and the mother. The children their primitive years could be impacted if exposed to a criminal environment. The child’s early childhood years are critical and sensitive to develop their physical, emotional, and social sense. The caged childhood in prison has a due impact on their wellbeing such as:

  • Unaware of the concept of home;
  • Image of male figure in authoritative officials and other personnel, i.e., Police and Prison Officials.
  • Anxiety or low esteem as the could be frequently transferred or unusual sights in prison
  • Victim of verbal or physical beating if their mothers take out the frustrations and angry were taken of them; etc.

All this could lead to children being violent, aggressive, or low self-esteem, anti-social behaviors, etc. The problems do not end till a child is their custody prison, but continue even after they release from jail. The child has to face a lot of stigmas attached to incarcerated parents after released from prison or attaining the age of teenage such as

  • Living alone with no shelter,
  • Unsupported by extended family,
  • Exploited for financial needs,
  • no one to take care of their hygiene and clothing
  • Could be used and retained in wrongdoing such as drug abuse, human tariffing, etc.

The main concern for the children of imprisoned mothers is “Who will take the responsibility and accountability of the children in the absence of their mothers?

The State is primarily responsible and, up to a certain extent, accountable for law and order for the minor children when parents are in the custody of the criminal judicial system. Following are the preventive and remedial functions of the State:

1.     Policy:

  • Article 39 (f) of the Directive Principles of State Policy states that children must be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity; childhood and youth are to be protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
  • The National Policy for Children adopted in 1974 declared: “It shall be the policy of the State to provide services to children both before and after birth and throughout growth to ensure their full physical, mental and social development. The State shall progressively increase the scope of such services so that within a reasonable time, all children in the country enjoy optimum conditions for their balanced growth.”

2.     Prison Welfare officers and the Directorate of Social Welfare need to work on policy and ensure that children have a good and healthy environment to grow and monitor education.

3.     Voluntary Service by legal aid or universities students for their social behaviors and social acceptance etc.


The children of prisoned parents have constitutional rights under Article 21: The right to live with dignity and respect, which must be protected and enabled.


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