By Onajomo Orere
It is a heart-rending story. Many female prisoners now have the misfortune of raising their children in the midst of hardened criminals, accused prostitutes, persons on death row and others jailed for various felonies. And the children are innocent.
Some of the female prisoners at the Kirikiri Female Prisons, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos, the only specialised facility for women in the country, want the government to save children born behind bars.
In a three-month long investigation of the ordeal of women who went into prisons with pregnancy or became pregnant while serving their terms, We learnt shocking truth about being born in the “manger”.
Psychologists and medical doctors say that babies raised by mothers behind bars will constantly find it hard to live normal lives.
Two female convicts who are serving six-month sentences each for child abuse with an 11-month-old and nine-month-old babies each at Kirikiri, appealed to the government to consider alternate forms of punishment for those involved in cases that can be considered as “medium or minimum degree” offenses while nursing. They claim that the prisons are not equipped to handle babies and so women with babies should be pardoned or punished in a different way.
On the other hand, the mother of the 11-month-old places more emphasis on the psychological ramifications of a mother and child in prison. “When the government knows that the prisons is ill-equipped to handle children, why should they imprison us together? Have they never heard of community service? If we are to tell the truth, does this demeaning experience reform or harden us the more?”
A lawyer, Mrs. Bisi Ajayi-Kayode who has been reaching out to women prisoners and done some studies on their situation subscribed to the two women’s argument.
Mrs. Amoiho Isi, who was once in prison for three months on a case of mistaken identity and now runs an NGO that specialises on prisoners, says: “From experience, I know that virtually everything is poor in the prisons – the food, treatment from wardens, welfare, name it.”
Paediatrician, Dr. Yemi Gbenro, says that the harsh, punitive environment of prisons can permanently damage the psychological and mental well being of children. “This is why you find children in this category having consistently recurring cases of psychological problems including depression, aggressive behaviour, regression, sleeping problems, eating problems, running away, truancy, poor school grades and delinquency.”
But the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Chuks Njoku, disagrees that Nigerian Prisons is worse than others in the world.
On medical care for pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants in prisons, he disagrees with the claims of the inmates. Njoku says that the prisons system has several doctors in its employment who draw up a dietary chart for pregnant women and nursing mothers and this is what they are fed.
By Onajomo Orere