THIRTY toddlers are incarcerated in Zimbabwe’s prisons with their mothers, a minister revealed on Wednesday as he called for reforms.
Breast-feeding female prisoners share cells with their children, a situation which the Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu says is like “serving time for a crime they did not commit”.
“Any normal, right-thinking society should never accept, let alone condone, the terrible practice of locking up breast-feeding babies with their imprisoned mothers,” Gutu told New Zimbabwe.com in an interview.
“This is some form of collateral punishment which should never be accepted in a modern, civilised society.”
Gutu said the situation was a result of a collapse in social services, who ideally should step in and look after the children until their mothers are freed.
“We have no prison facilities that are specially meant for imprisoned mothers with babies. These mothers stay in ordinary cells, just like any other female inmates,” Gutu added.
A new pilot project is being launched in Marondera Prison, he said, which will see breast-feeding inmates being kept in open prison – except those convicted of serious crimes like murder and armed robbery.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s a start. Open prisons will be set up in Marondera and Mlondolozi in Bulawayo for now. We want breast-feeding mothers to be housed in open prisons wherever possible. Resources permitting, the programme will be spread countrywide,” he added.
In the 2012 budget, Gutu said, only US$25,000 was allocated towards the upkeep of children behind bars, which meant prisoners had to share food with their children, most of it unsuitable for babies.
Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone, herself a campaigner for prison reforms after her time as Public Works Minister, said: “These children do not deserve to be there as they are likely to adopt mannerisms and language that is used in these institutions, which is not good for any child’s growth.”