Children like the ones shown above are in prison for no crime committed by them.
Similar to other children her age, 10-year-old Sylvia Nyiraseggiyava wanted to become a doctor after her education. She enjoyed education at Kamengo Primary School and lived a normal childhood until her life’s time clock momentarily stalled.
While at school, Sylvia was told that her mother, Laulensia Nyinabazungu, had been accused of murder and picked up by the police. “On reaching home, I discovered that my mother had been arrested and taken to Kamengo Police Station,” she says.
Feeling helpless, Sylvia’s elder sister went off to Rwanda, leaving the little girl under the care of an old man, who was not a relative. Sylvia’s mother insisted that she would rather stay with her daughter in Luzira Prison than let her live with a stranger. Prisons staff brought the girl to her.
Nyinabazungu was sentenced to 50 years in jail after the High Court sitting in Mpigi found her guilty of murder, making her the first woman in Uganda to receive such a sentence.
Today, Sylvia is one of the 43 children accommodated at the Luzira-based Family of Africa, a home that accommodates children detained with their mothers.
In its 21 women detention facilities countrywide, the Uganda Prisons Service currently has 161 children detained alongside their mothers. With 43 children, Luzira Women’s Prison has the biggest number.
Angella Akwia, the in-charge of Family of Africa project, argues that children should not be left to languish because of crimes committed by their mothers, yet often, detention of a single mother leaves her children helpless.
For many of them [detained women], the events leading to imprisonment rip apart their marriages. As a result, they are abandoned by their husbands.
Even after detention, newly-released mothers usually have no source of livelihood. As a result, some of them stealthily walk out of prison on release, leaving their children behind.
Currently, the Family of Africa is looking after three children who were abandoned by their mothers after release.
Born in prison
An ex-prisoner who preferred anonymity says she was sent locked up behind bars for murder while pregnant. Shortly after, she delivered and for almost ten years, she was in prison with her child because there was no one to take care of her. Even relatives abandoned her when she was convicted.
Upon release, she did not know where to go with her child. “Despite the fact that I was happy about being freed from jail, it was a trying moment since I was homeless. Being homeless and unemployed, I could not take care of the child. I made the toughest and most painful decision of my life of leaving my daughter behind.”
That day, she cried as she walked out of prison. “I said bye to my daughter as I left and promised the authorities that I would come for her as soon as I got a job and accommodation,” she narrates.
Fortunately, Mission After Custody, a non-government organisation, accommodated her until she found a job as a housemaid. She hopes one day she will make enough money to rent a room and get her daughter out of Luzira.
During a conference last year, the executive director of Mission After Custody, Morris Kizito explained that jobless, homeless ex-prisoners were partly responsible for the increasing crime rates.
According to research conducted five years ago, the Uganda Prison Service had a re-offending rate of 40%, implying that out of every 100 inmates released, 40 would be back in prison within a year.
The prison’s publicist, Frank Baine says the service is seeking funds to cater for children who are innocent, but find themselves victims of circumstance.
He observes: “Much as the current prison budget caters for children who are detained with their mothers, specific consideration for kids is sometimes not put in place.”
Children require more frequent and specialized medical attention, which the prisons department is not prepared for. Besides, life in prison traumatizes the children, which increases their likelihood of committing crimes when they grow up.
Yet, like Sylvia, 161 children are trapped in that situation. Authorities at the Family of Africa home say despite the challenges the young girl has been facing, she will soon be transferred to a home that accommodates older children to enable her access education since the present one is meant for children below three years.
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