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IRIN Africa | Southern Africa | ZIMBABWE | ZIMBABWE: Children endure the hardships of prison life | Children, Gender issues, Human Rights | News Items
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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ZIMBABWE: Children endure the hardships of prison life

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BULAWAYO, 5 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Annastasia, 12 months old, her hair plaited with red and white ribbons to match her flowery dress, conjures the ideal image of a cute toddler, a perfect contender for a baby pageant.

The only discordant note is her surroundings - four high white walls make up Annastasia's world, and she will only discover what lies beyond them in six months' time, when her grandmother fetches her to live with her four siblings.

Prison Fellowship of Zimbabwe (PFZ), the local charter of an international Christian alliance for rehabilitating and assisting former inmates, estimates that over 200 children are in the country's jails with their detained mothers.

At Mlondolozi Prison, a mental facility on the outskirts of the southern city of Bulawayo where female prisoners are held pending psychiatric review, 14 toddlers are serving sentences with their mothers.

Among them is Annastasia's mother, Sibusisiwe Nkala, who is serving a 10-year sentence for culpable homicide after killing her husband who was allegedly abusing her.

Mlondolozi Prison is the only home Annastasia has known. A small corner of the courtyard has been converted into a playground where female prisoners take turns watching over the toddlers. The youngest is just three weeks old, and the oldest is aged two.

"I had no clothes for my baby," said Thenjiwe Ncube, the mother of the three-week-old. Sympathetic prison officers chipped in and donated what they could, because "there are no provisions for baby clothes here".

Zimbabwe's prison regulations stipulate that children be released into the custody of relatives or the Department of Social Welfare once they reach the age of two.

"The extended family concept is dead, as people struggle to obtain the basic necessities to feed their families," said PFZ's Emmanuael Nyakasikana, noting that the Department of Social Welfare's homes have been stretched to the limit by the influx of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Fiona Mandiziva, mother of a 16-month-old boy, is serving four years for housebreaking. She says that given the option, she would prefer serving a community sentence and watching her child grow, as "I can't impose my child on relatives, because I understand that things are not that rosy out there."

In the past the prisons department used to provide mothers with extra rations of soap and food, mainly peanut butter and milk, to meet the needs of their children. But soap has become one of the most expensive necessities in Zimbabwe, with peanut butter and milk fast disappearing from most shops, including the prison department's stores.

Zimbabwe's prison system is over-stretched, with more than 30,000 prisoners crammed into 11 jails designed for 16,000 inmates. While women account for only three percent of the prison population, at Mlondolozi there are 11 inmates in cells designed for four, according to the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation, an NGO running rehabilitation programmes.

There are no separate sleeping arrangements for babies, and during winter both mothers and their children are forced to cuddle together for warmth under the few threadbare blankets provided by the system.

"It would be ideal if the children could sleep in cots separately from us," lamented one inmate.


 Theme(s) Children
Other recent ZIMBABWE reports:

Mugabe delivers broadside to neighbours,  21/Feb/06

Tsvangirai loses election appeal as opposition woes mount,  15/Feb/06

"Bread and Roses" protestors held,  14/Feb/06

Fuel voucher system scrapped, queues form again at pumps,  13/Feb/06

Floods drown hope for better harvest,  9/Feb/06

Other recent Children reports:

IRAQ: Thousands of families still displaced after flooding, 21/Feb/06

SOUTH AFRICA: Govt adopts more focused approach to help orphans, 21/Feb/06

YEMEN: Two killed in flash floods, 21/Feb/06

YEMEN: Measles vaccination campaign launched to prevent children’s deaths, 21/Feb/06

TAJIKISTAN: UN appeal for 2006 launched, 16/Feb/06

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