Women and children: the most forgotten and invisible inside prisons in Mexico


Kenya is an indigenous woman who does not speak Spanish and who was detained for alleged drug possession in a border community in southern Mexico, from the time of her arrest until her current stay in the Social Rehabilitation Center (Cereso) “El Amate” in Cintalapa, Chiapas has suffered systematic human rights violations.

He did not have a translator to let him know his rights, he faced sexual harassment and harassment at the time of his capture by the authorities, racial discrimination within the jail, did not have effective or timely access to menstrual management products, nor to medicines and specialized treatment when she was diagnosed with cancer. Not to mention the overcrowded conditions, water scarcity, food insecurity and even the payment of “protection” within the penitentiary center.

Under the same precarious conditions, Miguel was born in the Santa Martha Acatitla Women’s Center for Social Readaptation and between four walls, limited pediatric check-ups and a hostile environment, he has spent the first year of his life with his mother who is five years away. to serve his sentence. He will have to separate from her when he turns three from her and some relative will have to take care of his next years.

Kenya and Miguel are fictitious names, but these are the realities of thousands of women, girls and boys inside women’s prisons in Mexico. Although women represent 6% of the total population deprived of liberty, Nobody seems to know they exist. They and their children are the most forgotten in the Mexican justice system.

The children, inside and outside the prisons

The shortcomings facing the entire penal system Mexico, particularly women’s penitentiary centers, not only impact women who are deprived of release, but also their sons and daughters.

According to figures from the National Survey of Population Deprived of Liberty (ENPOL) 2021 of the Inegi, 7 out of 10 women who are in prison have at least one child and almost all of them are minors. And 8 out of 10 women deprived of their liberty had some economic dependent (children, parents or other people) before their arrest.

For all children and adolescents whose mothers are in prison there are no programs or laws aimed at accompanying them in their processes or guaranteeing their right to be cared for. The civil association Reinserta calculates that throughout the country there are half a million minors who have fathers or mothers in prison.

The vulnerabilities and violence faced by minors are pronounced for those who are born and spend their first years of life within penitentiary centers. In the last 10 years, around 10,000 girls and boys have been born inside Mexican prisons.

These pregnancies mostly occur because the women were already pregnant at the time of their arrest or became pregnant through conjugal visits. According to ENPOL data, 12% of the women has been pregnant during her stay in the prison. But facing the gestation process inside the prison can imply not having the fundamental care for a dignified pregnancy.

Two out of 10 women in this situation faced their pregnancy process without having attended prenatal check-up and follow-up services (in most cases because they were denied the service or because the prison did not have the necessary personnel or equipment).

At the end of 2021, almost 400 boys and girls were living in the prisons along with their mothers. And already born they also face important deficiencies in their child development processes. Some of these minors do not even have an identity certified by the authorities, are unable to carry out basic activities such as speaking or walking due to the pressures in the prison environment, or have food insecurity and highly preventable diseases.

Just as reproductive rights are highly violated inside Mexican prisons, so are sexual rights. 6% of women deprived of their liberty said that the penitentiary center did not provide them with condoms when requested and even 1% said that the staff did have them but they had to pay for them.

Menstruate as you can and don’t even think about getting sick

Other lags of the prison system in terms of gender is the invisibility and forgetting of a fundamental process in women’s lives: menstruation and the conditions or diseases related to menstruation.

In the women’s prisons of the country, menstruating women have two paths: ask their relatives or acquaintances to provide them with towels, tampons and other hygiene products during their visits or improvise with what they can to manage the bleeding.

Civil society organizations and the media have made it visible that with rags, socks, t-shirts or toilet paper, women manage to catch the menstrual flows of each period because the Mexican State has not yet implemented universal strategies that guarantee management items menstruation to all women in prison.

Detecting endometriosis, breast cancer, cervical cancer and even sexually transmitted diseases is also a challenge for women prisoners. According to ENPOL figures, only 4 out of 10 women in prison have received a Pap smear and only 3 out of 10 have had a medical examination to detect breast cancer.

Medicines and clinical and hospital care are not one of the highlights of the Mexican prison system either. 17% of the women deprived of liberty have been diagnosed with some disease and of this total more than 90% are not taking treatment to eradicate or contain it.

The figures show worrying realities: women face significantly more violence when they are accused of a crime, when they are arrested, when they are sentenced, and their life inside prisons seems to be thought of as if they were not women. . women who are mothers or who get pregnant inside the prisons face violations of their rights and the boys and girls who are born and raised inside the prison are completely invisible and ignored.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in their resolutions and global declarations points out that all States have the duty to respect the rights and freedoms enshrined and must guarantee their free and full exercise to all persons subject to their jurisdiction, including persons deprived of their liberty. Before being inmates, they are people.

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