The secretary-general of Comece, the Brussels-based commission representing the European Union's Catholic bishops, has urged the EU to take action to protect child prisoners being held in inhumane conditions across the world.
“Comece has drawn attention to the dramatic situation of many under-age prisoners – more than 1.2 million are imprisoned under inhuman conditions, often without the rule of law and sometimes with adult offenders”, said Fr Manuel Barrios Prieto.
“Under the EU's current Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, EU states commit themselves, among other things, to the worldwide promotion of child-friendly justice systems, as well as improved prison conditions in accordance with international standards.”
The Spanish priest spoke during the Brussels presentation of Libertad, a documentary by the Spanish director, Raul de la Fuente, describing the detention of minors at Pademba prison in Sierra Leone, and the support given to them by the Catholic Church's Salesian order.
He said many were deprived of nutrition and education, as well as basic medical and spiritual care, in violation of their dignity and rights, at a time when legal experts worldwide favoured improved reintegration and alternatives to imprisonment.
The EU’s 2020-2024 action plan, aimed at promoting human rights and democracy in ties with third countries, encouraged co-operation with religious and faith-based actors, Fr Prieto added.
Meanwhile, religious orders had made offers of help in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, in line with Church efforts to “ensure children and young people who have committed crimes receive necessary legal assistance, social support and education”.
Speaking last week in Dresden, Comece’s president, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, also called for stronger efforts to ensure “European values are implemented in concrete political action”.
“We talk a lot about European values and like to remind countries like China and Russia of human rights,” Cardinal Hollerich told the meeting at the German city's Catholic Academy. “But are we actually observing them ourselves?”