By Hamed Farmand, Partner of Global Co Lab and Founder and President of Children of Imprisoned Parents International

I started my research about the effects of parental incarceration on children in 2012. The first book in this field that I read was titled All Alone in the World by Nell Bernstein. The word “world” allowed me to think about this issue in the broadest way. As a person whose mother was in prison during my childhood, I made a deep connection with this book. The book was about African-American children in the U.S., but there were more similarities than differences between these children and me. I lived in Iran, and my mother was in prison for political reasons. However, it took five years for me to look seriously at the “effects of parental incarceration on children” from international perspective.

Last month, I was introduced via Skype by the Global Co Lab Network to a young lady by the name of Khairatul Saidu who submitted to Teens Dream, a project of the Co Lab. Most of our conversation was audio-only due to a poor connection. However, in just the few seconds that I was able to see her, the enthusiasm on her face was enough for me to imagine her smile as she spoke about her project of “Peace and Justice.” Her feelings about sharing her personal experience of having both mother and father in prison when she was 12 were strong. When she looked at me, I felt empathy between us.

For me, she is a symbol of “Teens Dream,” the amazing project run by Linda Staheli of the Co Lab. Kharatul not only submitted a project to Teens Dream but also received an award from the United Nations. She founded a non-profit organization to help make her dream a reality. When we talked to each other and discussed ideas, it felt like brainstorming for me. However, the things she was saying sounded like an action plan. Khairatul believes in justice and peace, and she wants to support people in her country who are faced with injustice and are seeking a peaceful and fair adjudication.

The first step of our project together is advocating for international issues regarding parental incarceration. I believe her stories can help other young people to be heard, and can convey to adults that these children, no matter where they were born or live today, have the same stories and needs. They want to be heard and to be viewed as victims of injustice and/or a non-peaceful judicial system.

By Khairatul Saidu, Submitter to Teens Dream from Nigeria 

The level of corruption in the Nigerian Judicial System has always been one of the factors, which leads many innocent people to prison. When I was 12, my parents were both wrongly locked behind bars. Being the only child, I was forced to stay with my uncle Mr. Rilwan.

During these periods, I noticed that justice was meant for those who are rich and not those who stood on their rights. I visited the prison every weekend, both the female and male prison wards respectively and I saw how innocent citizens have wasted their time and even their lives for a crime they did not commit. I could remember how the lawyers handling my parents cases and how they were not interested in attending the court to defend my parents case because they failed to bribe key people with money to attend the court and of course the judge is always ready to support the party who bribes him with money.

I wrote letters to many NGOs, individual and institutes, telling them to stand up for my parent’s innocence. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response from any of them.  I knew it was a problem and the solution to this problem is to address our corrupt judicial system. I made up my mind to push myself forward and do something, to fill a space between this problem and its solution. During this period, one of the major challenges I encountered from people was their mentality that whosoever goes to prison is a criminal and the solution is impossible.

The most common and acceptable approach is to empower women and youth however taking an action in the prisoners’ field is one of the hardest things that I have ever embarked upon. I knew the first thing to do was to change peoples mentality on how prisoners are viewed. I began gathering youths and teaching them the importance of human rights with reference to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I joined NGOs ranging from Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to World Merit. I was one of amongst a few people who championed the MY FACE FOR PEACE CAMPAIGN where 10000 people showed their face for Global Peace. All I had was a phone and Internet access – I tried to make the best out of it. I spread the word, I advocated in any group or school I found my self and I was a strong Anti Corruption Human Right Activist.

I gave counseling to youths and of course posted on human rights issues with the aim to change the stereotype. In 2015 I founded my NGO called Khairatul Saidu Foundation with the aim to create a platform – to be a voice for those unjustly imprisoned. For the few actions I have taken, I was recognized with awards ranging from the Princess Diana International Award for Active Advocacy, Some Of Essence Award, and the Public Peace Prize to The Iconic Women Changing the World For All.

Even though my dream is still yet not achieved, I look forward to being one of those who have championed fairness in the legal system.