By PETER KAYULA -
Zambia has a prison population of approximately 17,000 with a total of 1,316 women inmates, representing three per cent in prison cells built to accommodate only 5,700 inmates, this is according to a Prison Care and Counseling Association (PRISCA) survey of 2011.
Of this, 412 circumstantial children from the age of breastfeeding infants to five are incarcerated with their mothers.
In April last year, Zambia Prisons Service Lusaka Province Regional Commander, Chrispin Kaonga spoke of the struggle by the prison command to find the right and safe place for these children.
In an interview with the local media, Mr Kaonga said: “sleeping conditions at Lusaka Central Prison do not provide incarcerated children with space that is safe and secure.
Babies are delicate and require environments that are clean and conducive. But now we can’t find that environment in the prison at the moment.
“We have people with different kinds of ailments in prisons and children are supposed to be protected at all times.”
The population of pregnant women continues to rise in Zambian prisons posing challenges of human rights and a sequence of silence on community response to the pressing problem of women prisoners and the need for prisons policy development.
However, a consortium of three Non-Governmental Organisations on the Copperbelt has broken the silence with the launch of a project on ” The Rights Of Women Prisoners And Their Circumstantial Children aimed at influencing Government policy engagement on the need to respond to the human rights of female prisoners and their circumstantial children with regards to accommodation, food, health, water and sanitation.
In an outline of the (six months) pilot project funded by the Zambia Governance Foundation and its partners, the NGOs – The Advocacy For Good Governance , Gender Equity and Justice International (Lead) the Samaritan Strategy Foundation of Zambia and The Nkhosa Transformation Development Trust, spell out a common vision:
“The imprisonment of a woman who is a mother leads to the violation not only of her rights but also the rights of her children. As observed from Kamfinsa, Kansenshi and Mukobeko prisons, prisons are not a safe place for pregnant women, babies and young children and it is not advisable to separate babies and young children from their mothers.
There are no simple solutions but the complexity of the situation cannot be an excuse for failing to protect the rights of both the mother and the children who have a parent in prison.”
Giving a breakdown of circumstantial children in Zambian prisons, the outline states: “as on November 5th 2013, Kamfinsa State prison has recorded 53 female prisoners and six circumstantial children, Kansenshi State prison has 26 circumstantial children, while Mukobeko Medium prison has 102 female prisoners with 13 circumstantial children.
This , therefore, points to the fact that although women prisoners still remain the minority, their needs and indeed their rights and those of their circumstantial children are frequently not fulfilled by Zambia Prisons Services.”
An overview of this kind was also presented by the American Embassy’s, Zambia 2012 Human Rights Report which disclosed that, overcrowding, poor sanitations, dilapidated infrastructure, meager food supplies and lack of portable water resulted in serious outbreak of dysentery, cholera and tuberculosis in Zambian prisons.
Justifying the project, which will employ interactive methods of sensitising the communities, lobbying and advocating the promotion and protection of human rights for women prisoners, the NGOs argue: “although in some situations a short imprisonment sentence maybe given to a woman as compared to a man, Even a short prison term has a particularly harsh effect on women, in causing intense family disruption.
Most women who are imprisoned are mothers and they are far more likely than male prisoners to be the sole care-givers of children.
A woman living in an insecure or rented accommodation will usually lose this when she enters prison. On release, securing accommodation is often a problematic.
A mother whose children have been placed in the custody of foster and adoption homes (as suggested by the Prison Act) or of another person usually cannot reclaim permanent separation of families.
More generalised discrimination often follows women after release as they are often stigmatised.”
The outline of the project concludes with a litany of contemporary challenges of women imprisonment and key areas such as inadequate and inappropriate staffing, lack of family contact, accommodation, food supplies, water and sanitation.
It is anticipated that the project will offer policy options by conducting meetings with political leaders and officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs (police service, prison service) Ministry of Justice and families with relatives in prisons.
Other avenues include workshops and radio discussions, dissemination of information about women prisoners’ human rights and holding consultative meetings with parliamentarians to influence public policy debates on alternative recommendation on the Prisons Act.
The project will initially be implemented in Central Province (Kabwe) Copperbelt Province (Ndola, Kitwe). Although these are selected areas of operations, the effects and outcome will cover the whole Zambia.
Women who get imprisoned , while pregnant have particular health and nutritional needs.
The rights of both mothers and babies need to be considered in relation to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and post- natal care in prison.
According to Prison Care and Counselling Association (PRISCA), in the year 2013, there were no facilities for breastfeeding and expectant mothers. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare chose to have their infant and children under the age of four with them in prison.
Mothers have to share their meager food ration with their children in an environment lacking appropriate medical care that often exposed children to disease.
The presumption should be that babies should remain with their mothers unless there are compelling reasons for separating them.
What rights does a baby/child have if its mother is detained or imprisoned?
[This Article is issued by The Forum For Good Governance, Gender Equity and Justice.]
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