Children's Support Centers
There is now an oasis for some of these kids. In a quiet neighborhood, in a pastel three-story house with columns and a terrace, Women for Afghan Women, run by Manizha Naderi, has created a fairy-tale home, the Children’s Support Center, with 49 children currently in residence.
- New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Rubin, October 21, 2010
In 2003, when WAW held a conference on women's rights in Kandahar, we visited the women's prisons in Kabul and Kandahar. It was then that we discovered that in Afghanistan, women are imprisoned along with their children, and that no school or other activities are provided for these children. Seeing the women incarcerated in Pul-e-Charki, a hellish medieval-like fortress on a vast, desert-like plain outside Kabul, Manizha vowed to do something about this. Esther went to check it out again in 2008, and was sickened by the conditions: the filth, the chaos, the state of the children. WAW went to work immediately to raise money to get the kids out of there.
The European Commission expressed interest in the project, but before the grant was finalized, the female prisoners and their children were moved into a new facility in Kabul, incomparably superior to Pul-e-Charki, but still a prison. By the time the grant came through, we had chosen the building for the Children's Support Center (CSC) and were working on developing programs with Shahbibi, our brilliant CSC director.
WAW's CSC is a model of its kind in Afghanistan and would compare favorably with any similar facility in the world. There's an accelerated learning program to help the kids qualify for entrance into local schools, individual and group therapy, tutoring, computer and English classes, sports, entertainment, field trips. The children arrive angry, out of control, illiterate. Very soon they quiet down and throw themselves into their studies. No children in the world are more eager to learn than these kids. They are starving for education.
When we opened the facility, we wondered if the mothers would let us take their children. In fact, not only did every single mother eagerly send her children to the CSC, they even begged us to take their infants and toddlers. (WAW has decided that we will only take children over age 5 into our CSCs since we believe that the younger kids are better off with their mothers.)
We started with 34 residents in our Kabul CSC in November of 2009. Now there are 65. it's a joyous place. Prisons all over the country are clamoring to get their children in. We have just opened 2 more CSCs--in Mazar and Kunduz--and have applied for funds to open a second facility in Kabul.
Note: When we were doing research for this project, we were surprised to learn—and our supporters may be as well—that most countries in the world (except the U.S.) allow children to live with mothers in prison. Countries in the “developed world” recognize that the bond between mother and baby is crucial for a child’s healthy development. They provide prison nurseries and have stringent regulations governing the health of mothers and babies, their rights, the conditions of the nurseries. The average age limitation for children in prisons in European countries is 3 years. In poor countries children may live with mothers well into teen years because families on the outside are too poor to raise them. In Afghanistan, although there’s a law that limits the age of children in prison to 6 years, mothers have good reason to fear sending them to their families: children will be abused, used as servants, girls may be sold. Our experience has confirmed their fears.