Alongside these faces, the Congress was also the opportunity to tackle an important and often neglected subject: the fate of the children of parents sentenced to death or executed. One side event in particular recalled the impact of the use of the death penalty on these forgotten children. Laurel Townhead, Human Rights and Refugees Representative at the Quaker Office with the United Nations, the NGO which organised the event, told us more about it.

How many children are we talking about?

No one knows how many children have a parent on death row or how many people have lost a parent through execution. However, more is becoming known about the impact of a parental death sentence or execution on their children. The Congress reflected how this often overlooked issue is beginning to gain wider attention. The need to consider this group of children was raised in the Congress Opening Ceremony by Armand De Decker, Belgian Secretary of State, and was highlighted in other sessions of the Congress, by NGOs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and mothers who had been on death row.

The impact of a death sentence on the children of parents sentenced to death or executed represents a very powerful argument against the death penalty.

What are the key impacts of the death penalty on these children?
The side event outlined some of them, including:
• The unique burden children experience as a result of States action, the conflicted relationship with the State that this leads to and the impact this has on children’s safety and wellbeing
• The stigma and isolation faced by children
• Challenges to maintaining a relationship with the parent while still on death row and the emotional and psychological distress caused by the pending execution.

Pending abolition of the death penalty, the impact on these children must be recognized and their rights must be upheld. Zaved Mahmood of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights outlined the relevant rights and how these have been recognized in UN reports and resolutions. The Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have clarified that the best interests of the child should be taken into account when sentencing a parent. Therefore, courts should consider the impact on the child of sentencing their parent to death. If a parent is sentenced to death, their children have a right to timely information about their parent and a right to maintain a family relationship with them (where this in the child’s best interests).

What should be the next steps to uphold their rights?
At the side event and outside the formal programme of the Congress, there was interest in learning more about this issue and sharing ideas on how to advocate for these children and how to utilize the growing recognition of their rights. This interest came from the broad range of individuals that make up the abolitionist community: activists, lawyers, parliamentarians, and educators amongst others. To take this interest forward and to pick up on suggestions made at the side event, the Quaker United Nations Office proposes the creation of a Working Group (of the World Coalition for example) on Children of Parents Sentenced to Death or Executed and will explore possibility of a future World Day Against the Death Penalty focusing on this issue.

Do you believe this issue could be an argument for abolition and why?
Yes, because the impact of a death sentence on the children of parents sentenced to death or executed represents a very powerful argument against the death penalty. It is an argument that is applicable in all countries, at all stages of the process from arrest through to post-execution. The Quaker United Nations Office works on this issue first and foremost because we believe that such children should not be forgotten and their rights should be upheld. Focussing on this issue also supports abolition by:
• Humanising and making more sympathetic those sentenced to death by showing them as a person who gives and receives love and care.
• Bringing additional legal standards to bear, based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which all States (except the USA) have now ratified. In particular, the duty to take the best interest of the child into account in all decisions affecting them (CRC Article 3) should contribute to reducing the use of the death penalty. This child rights approach makes it even harder for States to claim that they use the death penalty in accordance with international law.
• Supporting arguments for moving from moratorium to abolition. The negative impact on children remains even in situations where there is a moratorium (for example they still don’t have access to imprisoned parents, worry constantly if the moratorium will be lifted and the parent executed).
• People who have experienced a parental death sentence or execution are and can be powerful advocates for abolition, similar to families of murder victims. It is hard to argue against the profound and unintended impact of the death penalty on this unquestionably innocent group.


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