African Press International (API)

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Kenya: A sad story of a worried mother in prison. Can the sentence be reduced through presidential pardon?

Posted by African Press International on April 19, 2008

Publisher: Korir, api

Such is a reflection of many countries in the world. Mothers serving long sentences and living with their babies in prison. A very sad affair. Should presidential pardon be applied in some cases? Yes we think so. And yet we also know that a crime has been committed and someone must answer for it. We praise the changes that were initiated by former Kenyan vice President Moody Awuor that has made life for the mothers in prison bearable. API

Pain of parenting from behind bars

By Mangoa Mosota and Emmah Onditi
Loice Achieng Omollo was sentenced to 14 years in prison for robbery.
That was two years ago, but the long sentence is not her greatest worry. Achieng, who is incarcerated at Kodiaga prison in Kisumu, gave birth to her fourth child, a boy, at the prisons health centre, one-and-a-half years ago.

Achieng, 32, who hails from Ngiya in Siaya, separated from her husband due to domestic problems.

“My husband, a driver, chased me away in 2005 since he had plans to marry another woman,” she says.

But the worst was yet to come, since Achieng was arrested on suspicion of robbery.

“Nilikuwa nimerudi kwa bwana yangu kuchukua vitu zangu lakini nikashikwa baada ya siku tatu kwa madai ya wizi (I had gone back to my marital home to pick my belongings, but I was arrested three days later, on allegations of robbery,” she claims.

Eunice Atieno and her daughter. Atieno has been sentenced to six months at the Kodiaga Womens Prison, in Kisumu.

She adds: “I was arrested while in the second month of my pregnancy. I do not know how my three children have been surviving.”

Achieng, who now lives in jail with her last born, says her loneliness is exacerbated by the limited time she spends with the child.

“I work for about eight hours a day. A babysitter, who is a fellow inmate picked by prison authorities, minds our children,” she says.

Achieng says she plans to explain to her son how she ended up in prison once he is old enough. Margaret Adhiambo, who is serving a three-month sentence for selling illicit brew, is the current baby-sitter at the prison. She takes care of nine children.

She says she is happy with the job.

“I wash, dress and feed the children. They are handed to their mothers at designated times,” Adhiambo says.

Convicts with young children or those who deliver in prison have to struggle to take care of their children, on top of their daily chores.

But the greatest pain comes when they have to be separated from their young ones once they reach four years. The officer in-charge of the womens section at Kodiaga, Ms Beatrice Were, says the children are usually taken home.

“The regulations do not allow mothers to continue living with their children in prison at this age. The children are supposed to be taken back home,” says Were.

The officer says if a mother is against such an arrangement, her child is taken to a childrens home.

The nine inmates currently living with their children at Kodiaga prison say they do not want to come to terms with separation from their children once they reach four.

Most of them say they lack support from their families and fear that their children might be rejected once they go home. Gladys Adhiambo Ooko, 30, delivered at Kakamega Prison three years ago.

Her daughter was full of excitement as The Saturday Standard spoke to her mother, oblivious of that her mother would spend seven years behind bars for handling stolen property.

Adhiambos husband died in 2006 at the Kodiaga main prison after falling ill.

He was convicted of robbery in the same case, and was to serve a 14-year term.

Adhiambo has served one year, and spent two others in remand.

“I do not know the whereabouts of my other three children. The pain of not knowing about their welfare is devastating,” she says.

Adhiambo is also in a dilemma as to who will take care of her youngest child once they are separated next year.

“I am an orphan. I have two elder sisters but since they have their own children, they may not manage another burden. They used to visit me when I was in remand,” she says.

Adhiambo, commonly referred to as Mama Melo at the prison, had wanted to sit last years Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination at the facility.

But she was not adequately prepared due to commitment to her daughter and constant worry about her other children. Eunice Atieno, 22, is serving six months for selling changaa.

The mother of a six-month-old child has served one month.

“I was a hairdresser before I began selling changaa. My husband was arrested on the day I delivered,” she says.

The inmate mothers face other challenges like lack of money to buy clothes for their children, and a father figure for the young ones.

“Since my sisters visited me last in remand, there is no one to buy clothes for my daughter. I wish I could provide for her,” laments Adhiambo.

The Government has tried to ease the plight of the mothers.

The prison is supposed to liaise with the childrens department to take custody of such children.

Were says in most cases, the children are taken to their mothers homes or close relatives.

The officer, however, says the mothers are sometimes reluctant to release the children.

“We make them understand that the law does not allow the children to continue staying in prison,” she says.

Were says the prison feeds the children with nutritional food.

“Their diet consists of milk, fruits, meat and vegetables,” she says.

The mothers and children sleep in a different area from the other convicts.

The officer says when the children reach three-and-a-half years, they are enrolled at Kodiaga Prison Nursery, which also caters for warders children.

“Adhiambos daughter is at the nursery school,” she says.

The officer adds that the women and their children are also provided with medical care at Kodiaga Prison Health Centre.

“The antenatal and postnatal care is up to standard. The children are also constantly examined to ensure they are in good health,” she says.

There are many problems in prison, especially crowding.

But reforms implemented over the last four years have made the lives of inmates bearable, and changed the image of the rehabilitation centres. For instance, they now have buses and access to television and computers, which has made them more enlightened.

At Kodiaga, a Sh1 million water project was completed last year, providing the over 3,000 inmates with clean drinking water.

Last year, former Vice-President, Mr Moody Awori, launched the Kenya Prisons Service Charter and Strategic Plan for 2005-2009. The Charter sets out a five-year plan that will change the face of prisons. This ambitious reform plan will cost Sh70 billion.

Prisons have also started partnering with the private sector in commercial ventures.

Awori said the move would generate additional funds and enhance skills and training for inmates.

Kenchic Limited launched a pilot chicken-rearing project at Kodiaga, with free technical assistance. The project has now been extended to Kamiti and Thika prisons. Kenchic aims to help inmates acquire skills that can enable them start economic activities once they are free.


African Press International – api

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