‘Children of incarcerated mothers suffering in terrible prison conditions’

Prisons in Zimbabwe are failing to meet the dietary scale for children staying with their incarcerated mothers contrary to the prison policy and procedures, a report compiled by a Senate Thematic Committee on Gender and Development revealed.

In some cases, prison officers made some contributions to assist the children with some basic food recommended for babies. 

The report, an inquiry into the status and welfare of children accompanying incarcerated mothers and access to ante-natal care for pregnant women, learnt that in most cases, children are always getting the same rations just like prisoners without a special diet suitable for infants.

The Committee conducted fact-finding visits to female prisons and female units’ sections from June 27 to July 1, 2022, in different provinces and presented it to the Senate on August 24, 2022.

27 June 2022Gokwe Prison Midlands 
28 June 2022Shurugwi Prison Midlands
29 June 2022Lupane Prison Matabeleland North 
 30 June 2022Khami Mlondolozi Prison Bulawayo 
1 July 2022Mutimurefu Prison Masvingo 
Table 1. Prisons visited by the Thematic Committee

During oral evidence, officials from the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) and the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs confirmed there was existence of a dietary scale for the children staying with their mothers in prison but all prisons are failing to meet the standard.

“ZPCS staff manning female prisons disclosed to the Committee that there is inadequate funding from Government for the procurement of food that is required on the dietary for children,” read the report.

“ZPCS staff members and prisoners confirmed that they depended upon donations from supporting partners and well-wisher organisations such as churches.”

Although there are fewer female inmates than men in Zimbabwe, female inmates include pregnant women, nursing mothers and the mentally challenged. 

Prison VisitedTotal female InmatesNumber of ChildrenPregnant mothers
Gokwe 4  1 1
Shurugwi 24   2 3
Lupane 1  0 0
Mlondolozi  56  2 0
Mutimurefu 26  3 0

Nursing mothers and pregnant women also reported they lacked a balanced diet.

“In all visited prisons the ZPCS officials informed the Committee that they are currently facing challenges in the procurement process of the different food stocks required in the dietary scale,” read the report.

The report stated that ZPCS officials confirmed there was late disbursement of funds by Treasury for the purchase of food.

Across all the visited prisons, the Committee learned children also faced problems in terms of clothing, especially newborn babies. 

“The Committee was concerned to note that Government is failing to provide for such services,” read the report.

“Pregnant women require preparations, but this is not readily available in prisons. ZPCS pleaded with the Committee that they only get these clothing through donations.”

As for prison accommodation, the Committee noted some of the prison infrastructure ‘still’ resembles punishment facilities where the cells were too small and have no toilets facilities. 

“Members of the Committee witnessed that at Mutimurefu and Lupane, inmates were using bucket system during the night.  Women in prison and ZPCS staff appealed to the Committee that there was no adequate space to separate mothers from newborn babies and other inmates and sometimes they shared the cell together, and it was very risky for babies since they risk contracting infections,” read the report. 

Women prisoners raised concern on challenges faced by those who were on mental rehabilitation, especially at Mlondolozi and “appealed to the Committee that the mentally challenged require a separate cell till their condition improve.”

The committee was pleased that under health and antenatal services, every prison has health staff officers and sometimes a prison clinic for medication and treatment of inmates. 

“The Committee was informed that the ZPCS clinics had midwifery staff to take care of pregnant and newborn babies. Successful stories of babies born without any challenges or problems from these health facilities were shared,” read the report.

However, the clinics have shortages of drugs, especially for children. The pregnant mothers also pointed out they required scan services which is currently not available.

“All female inmates in visited prisons bemoaned the lack of provision of cancer screening facilities. ZPCS and female inmates also reported to the Committee that they require ambulance for emergency services such as referring due pregnant mothers to hospitals,” read the report. 

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