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Guilty by association

KAMPANGO—Children get sick

JOSEPH—We need to save these

Children require a conducive environment for their faculties to develop fully. As such, confining children to places such as prison is akin to denying them a chance at success, as they grow up with a less stimulated brain than children who enjoy fresh air outside, their vision unhindered by the high prison walls. THOMAS KACHERE, who visited some female inmates who are nursing children at Blantyre Prison, writes:

Malawi may be, knowingly or unknowingly, nurturing a generation that may not develop to its full potential, mainly due to the deprivation of life opportunities at a tender age.

A case in point could be penitentiary institutions, where some female inmates live behind bars with their toddlers.

This can have a negative impact on children’s mental development. In addition to the practical disruption to their lives, children of imprisoned parents may experience grief, behavioural issues, stigma and discrimination and stress.

One of Malawi’s confined places is Blantyre Prison, which houses both male and female inmates from different parts of the country.

As of April 15 2022, there were 11 children living with their mothers behind bars.

Alefa Kampango of Mulanje District, who is serving a 10- year jail term, said she was convicted while pregnant and bore her child behind bars.

“I have been facing some challenges, one of which being inadequate supply of food at this facility.

“Again, if one child gets sick, the rest become sick as well,” she said.

Diana Joseph, a 28-year-old mother from Mwanza District, was convicted in 2021 and went to prison with her one-year-old child.

‘‘I came with my child because I do not have parents who can take care of her. I have some relatives but they are too poor to take care of my child.

“To say the truth, it is hard for the children at night because the space is small and, for them to sleep, we have to place them close to the abdomen. We eat once a day and that is not good for their health,’’ she said.

Calista Daudi, from Zomba District, is on remand for the suspected murder of her lover.

She went with her two-year-old child to prison because there was no one who could take care of her.

“It is very difficult to live with a child behind bars because the language spoken here is bad, the place is congested and it is easy for children to catch communicable diseases,” she said.

Public Relations Officer for the Prison Department in the Southern Region, Julius Magombo, said the facility was designed to house the elderly not children.

He, however, said, because of some challenges, mothers end up living in prison with their children.

“Some do come to prison while pregnant and have babies while here, which makes it difficult for them to let the children go.

“However, there are many challenges they [mothers] face, which may make it difficult for the children to grow up healthier despite the prison’s best efforts,” he said.

In Malawi, prisons do not have the amenities that children need for their healthy growth.

Blantyre District Social Welfare Officer Stephano Joseph described the development as unfortunate, adding that having children living with mothers in prison deprives them of the right to normal growth and also integration into the community.

“Social welfare offices have to be involved in the assessment of relatives of the parents to make sure that the children that are there can be re-integrated or live with their relatives. I am also mindful that, whenever this [conviction] happens, it causes enmity within the community [between those that committed crimes and those that were the victims of the crimes]; so, it may happen that those inmates may not be willing to let their children go.

“In that case, there is a provision within the law of safety homes where the children can be kept and, after the mother has finished serving the sentence, they can report to social welfare offices and take their children back,” Joseph said.

But, then, in cases where it is practically impossible to separate mother from child, the Government of Malawi must feel duty-bound to provide all the basic necessities to the children.

Article 2(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that each child has rights, including the right not to be discriminated against based on the status or activities of their parents.

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