A child born and living in prison is strange to the ear. However, for many of these little ones, prison is the only home and world they know. Female prisons worldwide not only accommodate women, but also their children.
This situation arises in two ways - either a pregnant woman was arrested and gave birth in prison, or a nursing mother is arrested with her baby.
Mothers held on remand or sentenced to jail often prefer to keep their babies and small children with them in custody. Infants residing in prisons are usually invisible to the legal and prison systems.
The prison walls become the only world they know and they often become victims of the frequently deficient, overcrowded and harsh prison systems. Their mental health is also affected given the abusive language among inmates and the traumatic experience that comes with imprisonment.
It is undeniable that the enjoyment of basic rights of children that accompany their mothers in prisons is hardly fulfilled, but often, these children are forced to stay in the absence of other or better options, for example, having no relatives that are able to look after them back home.
Despite the fact that prison is not a good environment to raise a child, some scholars argue that the first two years of a baby’s life are critical for the mother-child bond, and babies bereft of that bond are more likely to have bad behaviour in life.
In June 2000, the Europe Parliamentary Assembly, adopted Recommendation 1469 (2000) on mothers and babies in prison, in which it recognises the adverse effects of imprisonment of mothers on babies. It recognised that early maternal separation causes long-term difficulties, including impairment of attachments to others, emotional maladjustment and disorders, and that the development of babies is retarded by restricted access to varied stimuli in prisons.
According to our national laws, Section 59 of the Prisons Act of 2006 provides that a female prisoner maybe admitted to prison custody with her infant.
The infant shall be supplied with clothing and other necessities of life by the State until the infant attains the age of 18 months, in which case the officer in charge shall, on being satisfied that there is a relative or friend able and willing to support it, cause the infant to be handed over to the relative or friend.
Research shows that many of these children continue to live in prison up to the age of five or seven depending on the circumstances wherein there is no other alternative.
Given that international instruments and national legislation are binding on Uganda, is government aware of the fact that there are children living in prison?
Has government taken any measures to protect them from the traumatic pain and psychological torture that comes with living in prison? When they return to the community, does society accept them or can they even adjust to the alien outside world?
Recent reports show that there are 249 prisons in Uganda, 15 of which are female prisons holding about 2,468 women and 263 of their children.
Ms Gwennie is a human rights lawyer with CEFROHT (Ltd). email@example.com