Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Niamey, Niger - Sant’Egidio’s friendship with minors in prison

One of the most severe challenges that correctional systems of African countries have to address is the issue of minors held in prison.
Living conditions in African jails are already very burdensome for anyone. They include overcrowding, precarious health standards, restrictions on access to food, soap and
clothing, and a certain weakness of available judicial guarantees. For the small population of minors held in African prisons these conditions are even more harsh and penalizing.
What is often missing is a pillar of judicial civilization: the acknowledgment that the minor, even if he has made mistakes, is an inmate with whom one needs to relate in a different manner and whose detention must provide for school attendance and tend towards rehabilitation. What is missing is a different outlook that is open to the future and that may point young people who are disenchanted or desperate in new directions, that may create a horizon and relationships for a humanity that is still childlike, deprived of a normal affective fabric.
It is on this frontier that the African communities of Sant’Egidio curry out their commitment in the minors’ wings of African penitentiaries. It is what the community of Niamey, in Niger, does - for example - as we can see from the Community’s website,www.santegidio.org. We can read that “living conditions in the penitentiary of Niamey are extremely precarious. Inmates, some of whom are extremely young, lack practically everything, from clothes to soap. Food is in short supply as well.”
On Saturday mornings however, with the arrival of their friends from the Community, the outlook changes for those Nigerian kids. “Every visit is a precious opportunity to speak and describe one’s problems, but also to rediscover the beauty of being together: each week the unavoidable football match and the lunch, brought in from outside, which marks a big difference from the everyday menu. Friendship changes people, it alleviates suffering and, awaiting for the following Saturday, allows people to dream of a better life.”

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