– Angela Uwandu, ASF France Head of Office
Women and children in the Nigerian prisons across the country are plagued with several concerns. These issues range from minors serving time or awaiting trial alongside adult detainees in the same prison facility, pregnant women serving time in prisons, to the more disturbing reality of nursing mothers incarcerated alongside their babies in the prisons. Most recently in early August 2013, two female detainees who are awaiting trial in Kirikiri prisons for capital offences had their babies in prisons. These inmates are being represented in court by Avocats Sans Frontières France (Lawyers without Borders France).
Yet in another case being handled by Avocats sans Frontières France in Katsina state, a female detainee has been on death row alongside her infant child for two years. It is noteworthy that she was sentenced to death for an offence she was alleged to have committed as a minor. Recall that it is trite in law that the relevant time and age in criminal jurisprudence and trial is the age of the offender at the time of commission of the crime and not the age at the time of conviction. This important principle of law was clearly ignored by the trial judge who convicted and sentenced her to death in violation of several regional and international human rights instruments.The African Union on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian Child stated in a recent report that Nigeria had an estimated number of 6,000 children within its prisons facilities across the country. An allegation that the Nigerian prisons authority vehemently denied stating that such an outrageous figure could not have been based on empirical evidence. In a bid to counter the figure in the AU report, the Nigerian Prisons Service, released official figures of children in Prisons through its public relations office.
The statement asserted that there were 69 babies and 847 juveniles in the Prisons system in Nigeria as at March 31, 2013, making a total of 916 children in Nigerian prisons. It is noteworthy that whatever the real figures are: 916 or 6000, it is an anomaly for children to be incarcerated alongside their mothers in unsanitary conditions given the deplorable and unhygienic conditions of detention facilities in Nigerian prisons. These children are at best denied the chances of having a normal childhood with no provision by the government to ensure that those within school age have access to education.
Although it is generally argued that most infants accompany their mother to the prisons because it is not advisable to separate a sucking child from the mother. The same reasoning is adopted for babies born in prison to female detainees. The fact remains that this special class of inmates: pregnant detainees and nursing mothers in prisons must be given special consideration in the penal system.The Nigerian government must begin to consider alternatives and specific institutional strategies in handling these special classes of inmates who are vulnerable due to their special circumstances. While the practise of allowing female nursing detainees to keep their babies with them for up to 18 months gives room for bonding of mother and child, the infants are arguably exposed to higher medical risks due to the unhygienic and unhealthy prisons environment which compromises the health of adult prisoners let alone babies in Prisons. Nigerian prisons have acquired notoriety for infrastructural decay, overcrowding and the harsh and poor sanitary conditions detainees are forced to live by, conditions which pose a real threat to the life of inmates, majority of who are still awaiting trial.
In an interview granted to the Guardian newspaper in 2012, Dr. Okosun, a psychologist with a doctorate degree from the University of Ibadan while speaking on the negative impacts of having children in prison stressed that “the child’s performance in life’s affairs will be faced with several mental challenges, which will lead to something similar to a split personality with positive and negative sides. If not well managed, a confused thinking emerges and stress levels heighten in him”. Article 30 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child specifically provides that “state parties to the charter shall undertake to provide special treatment to expectant mothers and to mothers of infants and young children who have been accused or found guilty of infringing the penal law and shall in particular: ensure that a non custodial sentence will always be first considered when sentencing such mothers; establish and promote measures alternative to institutional confinement for the treatment of such mothers; establish special alternative institutions for holding such mothers; ensure that a mother shall not be imprisoned with her child; ensure that a death sentence shall not be imposed on such mothers and the essential aim of the penitentiary system will be the reformation, the integration of the mother to the family and social rehabilitation”.There is nothing to show that practical steps have been or are being taken in full adherence of this legal provision.
With this trend of babies in the Nigerian prisons on the rise, Avocats Sans Frontières France calls on the relevant authorities to put measures in place to facilitate release of awaiting trial detainees with infants in prison especially where they are charged with minor offences. The government must also consider alternative to incarceration for pregnant women or detainees as well as nursing mothers. In more serious cases, it behoves on the government to create specific and special facilities for these children and their mothers so as not to expose them to circumstances that could compromise their health by reason of their surroundings and nutrition. Prison staff and personnel must be specially equipped with relevant training and skills in handling and attending to these special classes of detainees in prisons.
For further enquiries please contact:
Angela Uwandu – (+234) 0806 663 40 44