TOP
Wednesday,September 30,2020 02:32 AM

161 children in prison for no crime

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th January 2012 02:28 PM

Similar to other children her age, 10-year-old Sylvia wanted to become a doctor after her education. She enjoyed education at Kamengo Primary School and lived a normal childhood until her life’s time clock momentarily stalled.

161 children in prison for no crime

Similar to other children her age, 10-year-old Sylvia wanted to become a doctor after her education. She enjoyed education at Kamengo Primary School and lived a normal childhood until her life’s time clock momentarily stalled.

 

By Petride Mudoola   
 Similar to other children her age, 10-year-old Sylvia wanted to become a doctor after her education. She enjoyed education at Kamengo Primary School and lived a normal childhood until her life’s time clock momentarily stalled.
 
While at school, Sylvia was told that her mother, Laulensia Nyinabazungu, had been accused of murder and picked up by the Police. “On reaching home, I discovered that my mother had been arrested and taken to Kamengo Police Station,” she says.
 
Feeling helpless, Sylvia’s elder’s sister went off to Rwanda, leaving the little girl under the care of an old man, who was not a relative. Sylvia’s mother insisted that she would rather stay with her daughter in Luzira Prison than let her live with a stranger. Prisons staff brought the girl to her.
 
Nyinabazungu was sentenced to 50 years in jail after the High Court sitting in Mpigi found her guilty of murder, making her the first woman in Uganda to receive such a sentence.
 
Today, Sylvia is one of the 43 children accommodated at the Luzira-based Family of Africa, a home that accommodates children detained with their mothers.
 
In its 21 women detention facilities countrywide, the Uganda Prisons Service currently has 161 children detained alongside their mothers. With 43 children, Luzira Women’s Prison has the biggest number.
 
Angella Akwia, the in-charge of Family of Africa project, argues that children should not be left to languish because of crimes committed by their mothers, yet often detention of a single mother leaves children helpless. For many of them, the events leading to imprisonment break down their marriages. As a result, they are abandoned by their husbands.
 
Even after detention, newly released mothers usually have no source of livelihood. As a result, some of them stealthily walk out of prison on release, leaving their children behind. Currently, the Family of Africa is looking after three children who were abandoned by their mothers after release. 
 
An ex-prisoner who preferred anonymity told Sunday Vision that she was sent to jail for murder while pregnant. Soon, she delivered and for almost 10 years, she was in prison with her child because there was no one to take care of her. Even relatives abandoned her when she was convicted.
 
On release, she did not know where to go with her child. “Despite the fact that I was happy about being freed from jail, it was a trying moment since I was homeless. Being homeless and unemployed, I could not take care of the child. I made the toughest decision in life by leaving my daughter behind.”
 
That day the ex-convict cried as she walked out of prison. “I said bye to my daughter as I left and promised the authorities that I would come for her as soon as I got a job and accommodation,” she narrates.Fortunately, Mission After Custody, a non-government organisation, accommodated her until she found a job as a housemaid. She hopes one day she will make enough money to rent a room and get her daughter out of Luzira.
 
During a conference last year, the executive director of Mission After Custody, Morris Kizito, explained that jobless, homeless ex-prisoners were partly responsible for the increasing crime rates.
 
According to research conducted five years ago, the Uganda Prison Service had a re-offending rate of 40%, implying that out of every 100 inmates released, 40 would be back in prison within a year.
 
The prison’s publicist, Frank Baine, says the service is seeking funds to cater for children who are innocent, but find themselves victims of circumstances.
 
He observes: “Much as the current prison budget caters for children who are detained with their mothers, specific consideration for kids is sometimes not put in place.”
 
Children require more frequent and specialised medical attention, which the prisons department is not prepared for. Besides, life in prison psychologically traumatises the children, which increases their likelihood of committing crimes when they grow up.
 
Yet, like Sylvia, 161 children are trapped in that situation. Authorities at the Family of Africa home said despite the challenges Nyiraseggiyava has been facing, she will soon be transferred to the home that accommodates older children to enable her access education since the present one is meant for children below three years.
 
 
How prison affects children
 
The environment plays a big role in child development, so growing up in prison affects a child’s behaviour and brain development.
 
“An ideal environment is one where a child can experience effective learning and be able to socialise with different people.
 
However, the prison does not provide that”, says George Masuba, a counsellor with Child Fund International. 
 
He notes that a child who grows up in prison is likely to become anti-social. They are also likely to suffer from mental retardation because they are not exposed to creative thinking. Their minds remain glued to what is in the prisons.  
 
In a prison, where the diet is unlikely to be balanced, the child’s physical growth will also be affected.
 
Another possible effect is fixation. “In this case, you find a 15-year-old acting like a six-year-old because prison robs the child of many stages in development, ‘’ Masuba explains.
 
Once these children return to the normal society, Masuba says, a social support system is very important.
 
“The relatives and all people around the child need to understand that this child has been through a lot, so they have to be patient and understanding. It would help if a counsellor talked to the people the child is living with to help them appreciate the situation.”
 
In addition, the child has to go through counselling and therapy. “She or he needs the help of a professional to help them deal with the transition from prison life to normal routine.”
 
In other parts of the world:
Germany: There are six closed prisons which allow children up to three years old and two open prisons which allow children up to the age of six. The open unit at Frankfurt-Preungesheim is located outside the prison walls, reflecting a policy of distancing the mother-child unit from the rest of the prison. Each mother has her own apartment comprising a bedroom/living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. 

UK: In England and Wales, three closed prisons have places for 34 babies, and one open prison has places for 20 babies. Children may stay until they are 18 months old in the open prison and in one closed prison; otherwise the limit is nine months.

Italy: The mother-child attachment in a home environment is considered so important that mothers with children under the age of three are not imprisoned but put under house arrest, until the child is 10 years old. They follow an alternative (work) programme outside prison.

161 Children iN prison for no crime

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author