When Laulensia Nyinabazungu was suddenly arrested, she worried about how her children would cope without her. But her nightmare was only starting; the court found her guilty of murder and sentenced her to half a century behind bars. Petride Mudoola visited Luzira and got her story
Sylvia Nyirasegiyunva, 12 and her five-year-old brother Robert Balyejusa worry about what would befall them just in case their mother dies in prison. They are hoping that the President exercises his prerogative of mercy and pardons their mother who is serving a 50-year jail sentence.
“Mum is all we have in life. We have no relatives to take care of us,” they say.
Nyirasegiyunva, nine years then, and her then two-year-old brother enjoyed a relatively normal childhood. They wanted to become academicians, but their dreams were shattered after their mother was sentenced to a 50-year jail term.
While at school, Nyirasegiyunva received information that her mother, Laulensia Nyinabazungu, had been accused of murder and picked up by the Police. By the time they reached home, she had already been taken in.
Neighbours informed her that her mother had been arrested and taken to Kamengo Police Station. Nyirasegiyunva and her brother headed to the Police station where they found their mother in detention.
“With tears welling in her eyes, mum asked me to tell her friend to call my sister who was married in Mpigi to come and run the home. Unluckily, our sister had left for Rwanda, forcing us to stay under the care of an old man who was not a relative,” she says.
Nyinabazungu was sentenced to 50 years in jail after the High Court in Mpigi found her guilty of murder, making her the second woman in Uganda to receive such a sentence.
From the time their mum was detained, Nyirasegiyunva says they could not live in their home. They failed to go back to school and the only alternative they had was to take refuge at the old man’s house as they pondered their next move.
Recalling their stay with the old man, Nyirasegiyunva says he managed to accommodate them for some time because he was living alone, and had no one to do his washing and prepare food for him.
When Nyinabazungu was being transferred from Buwama Prison to Luzira Maximum Security Prison, she insisted that she would rather serve her sentence with her children in Luzira than let them live with a stranger. Later, the prison’s welfare officer brought the children to her.
The LC 1 Chairperson and Jane Nakalika, the senior welfare officer of Luzira Women’s Prison, approached the old man’s house and asked Nyirasegiyunva and her brother to bathe, dress up and go with them. They then took a taxi to Kampala.
Clad in her yellow uniform dress and red slippers, Nyirasegiyunva’s mother was escorted by a prison warder to the visitor’s room.
The reunion was deeply moving. It was the happiest moment in her life. A wave of joy swept through Luzira Women Prison’s reception. Tears of joy flowed as mum kept hugging them.
Today, Nyirasegiyunva is one of the 35 children accommodated at the Luzira-based Family of Africa, an Italian non-governmental organisation that accommodates children detained with their mothers.
Fr. Felix Sciannameo, the president of Family of Africa, has since taken over the responsibility of looking after the children. Nyirasegiyunva is currently in P5 at St. John’s Educational Centre, a boarding school in Mukono and her brother is in P1 at St James Primary School in Biina.
Nyirasegiyunva says apart from missing their mother’s love, they have not found challenges during their stay at Family of Africa. Here, they are provided with everything they need.
How Nyinabazungu ended up in jail
On March 10, 2010, Nyinabazungu, a mother of 13, was convicted for the murder of her stepson. Nyinabazungu however insists that she is innocent. She says the child only died in her hands as she helped to take him to a health centre.
After the burial, Nyinabazungu was summoned to Mpigi Police Station to record a statement. Her co-wife had filed a case accusing her of killing her child.
She says she appealed against her sentence but she has not received any response.
“My little son is always asking: ‘Why are we here?’ Because he always sees me in a yellow uniform, he keeps asking why I do not change my dress,” she says.
“Having tested HIV-positive, I always get sleepless nights whenever, I think of what would befall my children in case I died while in prison. It stresses me when the boy asks, ‘mum when shall we leave prison?’,” she says.
Despite the challenges she encounters in jail, Nyinabazungu commends Sciannameo for accommodating her children.
Raising prison children
According to prison rules, when a prisoner’s child makes two years, he/she is not allowed to stay within prison because the environment is not suitable for bringing up a child.
However, many of the prisoners who come from upcountry are not visited by their relatives who would have taken the children back home.
“The children, therefore, end up staying in prison,” the officer in charge of Luzira Women’s Prison, Stella Nambuya, explains. The environment plays a big role in child development, so growing up in prison affects a child’s behaviour and brain development.
Children of prisoners pray before partaking of a meal
Father Felix to the rescue
Fr. Sciannameo of St James Catholic Church in Biina, Luzira, says he came up with the idea of setting up a daycare center for prisoner’s children after concerns that inmate mothers were strained because of carrying children on their backs all day long.
The Family of Africa is the first daycare centre for prisoner’s children in Uganda. It overlooks the women’s prison and was established in 2005.
Sciannameo says before these children’s first birthday, they stay in the prison cells with their mothers. After one year, they are brought into the daycare centre where they spend the day and return to their mothers at night.
After they make two years, they spend Sunday in the cells, and the rest of the week they are at the daycare centre. When the children are three years old, they are taken to Biina Family of Africa Home, where they go to school until they complete their education.
They are allowed to visit their mothers. Nabunya says during visits, the children are always excited and they enjoy the company of their mothers. Whenever they have to go back, most of them leave crying.
If the mother is released and has no home to return to or is unemployed, Family of Africa takes care of the children until the mother is stable enough to take care of the child herself.
Mothers are required to give consent for custody through the judge and probation officer before the child is considered for accommodation.
Asked if there are cases of a prisoner’s child dying in their custody, Sciannameo says the daycare has lost one child. The child succumbed to malaria while at Mulago Hospital.
Because the child had been rejected by her father, the daycare centre bought a plot in the cemetery and buried her.
Sciannameo appeals to the Government to consider tax exemption for commodities that facilitate the welfare of prisoner’s children.
He says clearing goods and consignments meant for the daycare centre is a big challenge. Currently, the Government charges more than sh35m as tax for every container he receives from Italy.