On World Day Against the Death Penalty, Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) and Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) draw attention to the negative impact of the death penalty on Children
October 10, 2019, is world day against the death penalty. A day set aside every year to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and raise awareness on the conditions and the circumstances which affect prisoners with a death sentence. The day was first organised by the World Coalition against the Death Penalty in 2003. The theme for this year is Children: Unseen victims of the death penalty.
In its 2018 global report on death sentences and executions, Amnesty International recorded that in Nigeria; at least 19,336 people were on death row. Many of these people have children connected to them either as daughters, sons, nephews, nieces etc. The death penalty does not only affect the person who is sentenced. Members of the sentenced person are also collateral victims.
The children of parents sentenced to death or executed have been referred to as the ‘invisible’ or ‘forgotten’ victims of the death penalty, whose experiences are often overlooked and whose rights are rarely considered in criminal justice processes. Studies recognize that children of people sentenced to death or whose parents are on death row carry a heavy emotional and psychological burden that amount to the violation of their human rights and most of them often come from poor families and/or are from minority groups. Protection of the rights of the child enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a very distant dream for these children. When a parent is incarcerated on death row, the looming threat of execution can prolong and exacerbate issues. If executions do take place, this permanently deprives the child of the parental relationship and it has been found to cause specific traumas and some of these issues constitute violations of the rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the child.
. Most prominently, given the associated impacts, the imposition of the death penalty on a parent may constitute a violation of States’ obligations to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence under Article 19 of the CRC. Notably, Article 3 of the CRC requires that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decision-making affecting them, including those relating to their parents.
After the arrest of a parent, the children may need immediate alternative care arrangements. This can be complicated in cases where children are related to both the victim and (alleged) offender, such as domestic murders. Family members of victims may be unwilling to care for the children because of their association with the suspected offender.
Globally, there is a shift in the view of the death penalty, especially in Africa. Since the 1980s, there has been a global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty, a trend which continues to this day. 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
The progress in sub-Saharan Africa has reinforced its position as a beacon of hope for abolition. The leadership of countries in this region gives fresh hope that the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach, particularly as it has been shown to have a more adverse effect on the children(s) of the victims.
At the end of 2018, 106 countries (a majority of the world’s states) had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, and 142 countries (more than two-thirds) had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. With governments in the region continuing to take steps to reduce and repeal the death penalty well into 2018, the isolation of Nigeria from the world’s remaining non-executing countries would not be starker.
HURILAWS and LEDAP call on Federal and State legislators and executives in Nigeria to:
· Put in place an official moratorium on the imposition of death sentence and the carrying out of executions on the parent of a child
· Conduct a child rights impact evaluation of the actual impact of the implementation of current legislation and policies in their State related to the death penalty, to assess the impact on children of the parental death penalty. Consider all aspects of children’s rights in this evaluation, including the right to be free from inhuman treatment, and the rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. Engage in thorough communication with children to facilitate their meaningful participation in this process, and to identify their best interests, using child-friendly procedural safeguards.
· Develop transparent and objective processes for legislative decisions made concerning the death penalty to ensure full consideration and respect of the human rights of children.
· Enact legislation that requires in law the detailed procedural steps for conducting a best interests of the child assessment as set out in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment on the best interests of the child, and include a provision explicitly requiring that such an assessment be conducted before any sentencing decision is made that impacts a child. Ensure that all the procedural requirements set out in this legislation are disseminated to both prosecutors and judges.
· Enact into legislation the requirement that all State actors whose actions impact the children of parents sentenced to death or executed be educated about the impact of the parental death penalty on children, and the international legal standards that protect the child’s best interests.
HURILAWS and LEDAP also call on Federal and State Judiciaries in Nigeria to:
· Refrain from sentencing a parent to death in line with the presumption against executions of parents as set forth by the UN Human Rights Committee.
· Lead on or contribute to the design and implementation of transparent and objective processes for all decisions related to the death penalty that are made by sentences that affect children.
· Insist on the best interests of the child assessment for each case of a parent who may be sentenced to death or executed.
· Refuse to deliver a sentence of death until the assessment is completed and fully considered.
· Ensure that any decision on the death penalty is made in full compliance with the best interests procedures set out in the General Comment on the child’s best interests of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
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