Called "Trano zaza maditra," ("Home for Naughty Boys") it is the state-run rehabilitation center that houses over one hundred children and youths in Anjanamasina, a suburb of Antananarivo, the captial of Madagascar.
Here, for years, the Salesians of Don Bosco have been distributing meals every Sunday and during midweek feasts, as well as engaging in recreational activities with the adolescents.
"Music, theater, sports, as well as spiritual formation through the celebration of Mass, catechism, and the screening of religious and educational documentaries are some of the activities in which we try to involve minors at different stages of their detention," said Fr. Giovanni Corselli, a Salesian missionary in Madagascar for nearly 40 years and director of the Ankililoaka house, to Fides Agency about his personal experience serving the Anjanamasina juvenile prison.
"The community of Ambohitratrimo, where the Salesian novitiate is located, is a quarter of an hour's drive from the prison, " he explains. "First with my predecessors, then with me and now after me, it works a lot with the aim of making the young prisoners feel as good as possible. To be closer to them, we used to give gifts to the various directors and officials, as well as to the prison guards, at Christmas and Easter, and we always invited them to eat with us and with the adolescents."
"On average, there are around 100 of them, aged between 9 and 17, but the number of minors detained varies according to the roundups that the policemen carry out at night or during the day and where they surprise teenagers running around trying to steal," explains the missionary. "Often, it is the parents themselves who put them there because they do not know what to do with them."
Games and laughter provide some small respite from a difficult life
The objective of the Salesians of Don Bosco is to make them feel loved, important to someone, not a burden to get rid of, to make them understand that they are not abandoned. "Unfortunately, during the week they are subject to rigid prison rules which do not take into account their right to play and free time, but on Sundays, they can participate in sports and recreational activities. Games and raffles are organized at the center two or three times a year, but it is also an opportunity to distribute useful items for daily life. The prizes are clothes, school supplies, chocolate, etc. In addition, as the authorities are unable to provide regular and balanced meals to the young prisoners, the Salesians have taken the initiative to distribute full meals through the novices, who then eat with them."
"It is a delicate and complex reality to manage, which sees cohabiting those who have committed a crime, those whose only fault is living on the streets without the support of their families, and also children and young people whose families are unable to care for, so much so that in popular jargon it is called Trano zaza maditra, or Home for Naughty Boys. We have tried to save some of them, but with others, we haven't succeeded because they need constant care and we don't always have the possibility," concludes Father Corselli.
In some countries around the world, minors are arrested and detained for trivial reasons, such as running away from home, sleeping on the streets, skipping school; sometimes they are tried as adults, condemned to serve their sentence in adult prisons, and receive equal treatment with adults by the police.
Data released by the United Nations Children's Fund show more than one million children deprived of their liberty in prisons around the world. Human Rights Watch, a human rights organization, says many imprisoned children have received excessive and disproportionate sentences that violate international law. Ill-treatment, abuse, denial of contact with family, use of solitary confinement, and lack of properly trained staff are all accusations made by Defense For Children, an NGO that deals with the rights of minors in the world concerning the conditions and treatment of young people in prison in some countries.
With thanks to ANS for this story