Govt mulls open prisons for breastfeeding mothers

HARARE - Lactating female inmates will soon benefit from an open prison system to be introduced by government, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has said.

The new system is meant to ensure that the incarceration of mothers does not infringe on the rights of their children.

“I want to advise that those are the measures government is looking into to ensure that such mothers are taken to open prisons,” he said during a questions-without-notice session in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

“We will make sure that we have more open prisons and that is what we have considered to implement,” he added.

Lawmakers Lynnet Karenyi-Kore and Dexter Nduna were particularly keen to understand the measures government has put in place to ensure that children born under prison conditions are separated from the serving mothers.

Karenyi-Kore was not convinced by the minister’s response.

She challenged Ziyambi to highlight a single penitentiary where the open prison system is functional in the country.

“I was once at Mutare Remand Prison in 2012 and those children had no such facilities,” she said.

“Those children lived together with their mothers and they are not given any supplementary foods or any other special day care services”.

Ziyambi said as part of efforts to improve the country’s justice system, “we are trying to abide by what we call best practices”.

He said when a child is born, what is best if for the baby to be with their mother because the mother is better placed to look after them.

“Among the measures we have in place, whilst in prison, the mother is able to get the necessary assistance to bring up their child.

“The reason is that, if the children are separated from the mothers, they will not be able to get the maternal love that is necessary for their growth,” said the Justice minister.

Since 2012, government has been procrastinating on the issue of open prisons for women.

And yet it has been saying that plans were at an advanced stage to introduce the new system.

Speaking at a United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms for the Implementation of Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review National Plan of Action workshop in Nyanga in 2012, the then permanent secretary in the Justice ministry David Mangota said preparations to introduce the open prison system targeting women, especially those with babies, were at an advanced stage.

“The imprisonment of mother and child has been worrisome and we have tossed a number of ideas and are convinced that women are not as dangerous as men,” said Mangota.

“So we decided to have open prisons for women folk. All mothers will benefit from open prisons for the benefit of the child.”

Mangota, however, said the open prison system had challenges as some women might get pregnant during the time they would be serving their sentence.

Zimbabwe prisons can hold 19 000 inmates.

At the moment, there are 14 000 prisoners countrywide of which about 600 are female.

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