A Helping Hand for Children

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Release and reintegration of minors in trouble with the law

The project “A helping hand for children” is an initiative launched by Maison Shalom in January 2010. Its aim is to promote the release and subsequent reintegration into the community of minors imprisoned in Burundi. Juveniles who have had run-ins with the law are routinely held in prison for years, even though they’ve served their sentence. Their families are often too poor, they have no means of asserting their right to be released and they stay behind bars illegally. In addition, some children are born in prison, and others have mothers who are in prison. If there’s no one on the outside to look after them, these children have no other choice but to join their mothers in jail and grow up there.

The children targeted by this project are therefore divided into two categories: minors in trouble with the law, and children born in prison. With the agreement of the State and the Ministry of Justice, Maison Shalom organizes visits to the country’s prisons in order to identify such children. In early 2011, five young people joined the helping hand pilot project. The prisons are visited by lawyers and social workers. Once the minors have been identified, interviews are organized to explore the possibilities that are open to them after their release.

Depending on the case, the children may be placed with relatives or with a foster family. On release, however, they first spend at least three weeks in a Maison Shalom house. The goal: ease the trauma and prepare to rejoin the community. At the same time, the family and the community are made aware of the need not to stigmatize such young people and the importance of treating them as children, not as criminals. The families receive support from Maison Shalom, for example in the form of foodstuffs or financial support for school material. Minor that are too old for school are usually placed in an occupational school and their schooling supplemented with vocational training.

Once the children have been released and placed, Maison Shalom organizes regular follow-up visits, in order to ensure that the integration is going well and that the child and the family have everything they need.

 

The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg becomes actively involved in the release and reintegration of minors in trouble with the law

The helping hand project originated after a visit to Burundi by Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, a UNICEF Eminent Advocate for Children, in late May-early June 2009. On leaving Mpimba prison in Bujumbura, the Grand Duchess, who is also the President of the Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa Foundation, declared that she wanted to help the children and young people being held in the country’s prisons. After several months of preparatory work, in both Luxembourg and Burundi, the project was launched jointly by Maggy Barankitse and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa at the end of January 2010 at the Grand Ducal Palace. The partners in this multiyear programme are Maison Shalom, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Foundation, which provides all the funding, and the Luxembourg NGOs Fondation Bridderlech Deelen and Christian Solidarity International asbl.

 

To learn more about the project and the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Foundation: www.fondation-grand-ducale.lu