When Pipe Dreams Start Becoming Reality

Luciano Cadoni | May 26, 2021

“One of the aspirations of Plataforma NNAPES [and CWS]…is that children can be protagonists and speak with their own voice about their reality and can articulate their demands and their vision about this issue.”

Martín Coria, CWS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said this in a 2016 interview that went on to be part of a documentary called Desinvisibilizar (“Making it Visible”). Desinvisibilizar was the first documentary produced in Argentina–and one of the first produced anywhere in Latin America–to shine a spotlight on the situation and struggles of children and adolescents with adult references deprived of liberty (NNAPES from its initials in Spanish) and their families.

At the time, our work with children and families of prisoners was new. The regional coalition that CWS supports, called Plataforma NNAPEs, was taking its first steps to amplify the voices of these marginalized families.

Step by step, our work has paid off. And then two things happened last month that our team in 2016 could only have dreamed about.

A screenshot from Manuel, Federico and David’s testimony at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

A Historic Testimony

Dr. Ricardo Pérez Manrique, one of the Judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, called what happened on April 21, “a fact of historical significance.” Three teenagers provided testimony in front of the court about the unique challenges that children with incarcerated parents face. In Dr. Pérez Manrique’s words, “for the first time, a representation of children and adolescents, exercised, by themselves and not by adults, their rights to present their views to the Court.” The President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also highlighted this historic first during the closing of the Audience.

Manuel, Federico and David, were the teenagers who spoke. They are from Uruguay and Nicaragua and participate in programs of two of the organizations that are part of Plataforma NNAPEs. Federico and David have experienced having a parent in prison; Manuel’s mother is currently under house arrest facing felony charges. She is likely about to be sent to prison.

Manuel presented a series of recommendations about the issue to the Court. He asked that his voice and perspective be taken into account in his mother’s case. Federico added, “I hope that these issues can be fixed and other alternatives can be found so that moms [like what is happening with Manuel´s] will not end up in prison.”

Their message and recommendations were simple. But the weight of that day cannot be overstated. They were able to deliver their message directly, in their own words, to this important body. This means so much to all of us who have put some much time and work into making these moments possible.

Back in that interview in 2016, Martin said, “I think that there will be a qualitative change when children, their mothers and their families are at the forefront and we, NGOs and civil society organizations, stay behind them, accompanying and supporting their claims.” That vision is starting to become reality.

Andrea speaking at an event in 2017.

A Groundbreaking Honor

We also learned last month that the government of Argentina nominated the leader of a Plataforma NNAPES member for a prestigious honor. Andrea Casamento is the president and founder of the Prisoners’ Families Association of Argentina, or ACIFAD. The Argentine government nominated her to be a member of the United Nations Sub-Committee Against the Prevention of Torture.

Never before has an activist for the families of the incarcerated–let alone someone who has personally been in this situation–become a member of such a group.

Andrea’s nomination is a victory for the whole CWS family. As she wrote to us recently, “Eight years ago, CWS met with a small group of women who could not stop crying, alone, devastated by pain, by the social stigma, who had experienced different forms of violence. We were relatives of people deprived of liberty who did not know where to ask for help. However, CWS decided to support us.”

She added, “You dared, walked with us, you supported us emotionally and financially. That helped some of us to become full time organizers and listen to other women, participate in meetings with public officials, other human rights organizations, judges and public defenders. That is how our journey started, learning while transmitting our knowledge to others.”

Andrea (third from right) at an event in New York City in 2019. Also pictured are members of the CWS staff: Senior Director of Global Migration Andrew Fuys (left), Program Officer for the Rights of the Child Luciano Cadoni (third from left), Executive Vice President Maurice Bloem (right).

We supported ACIFAD directly and through Plataforma NNAPES, where they could unite with similar members across the region. “Plataforma NNAPES is a fundamental space that helps us make our children visible, to generate knowledge and to hear what they have to say. Being part of Plataforma opened many doors for us,” Andrea says.

“All of the above made it possible that today the government of Argentina nominated me to be a member of the subcommittee on prevention of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment of the United Nations,” Andrea says. “This will allow me to bring our voices, critical thinking and experience to the center of the world´s discussions.”

Today, five years after Martin’s interview, we’re proud to see real progress towards our shared dreams. What was invisible is starting to be seen. Silenced voices are being heard.

Luciano Cadoni is the Program Officer for the Rights of the Child with CWS Latin America and the Caribbean.