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The plight of imprisoned women’s children

Shoukat Iqbal Khattak

Infants and minor children use to stay with their mothers in the women prisons and after crossing certain age limit they are sent to their families or relatives or shifted to shelter homes.

Rana Habib, President Initiator Human Development Foundation, says that there is no age limit for such children who stay with their mothers in women prisons under the Sindh Children Act-1955.

Sadaf Rehman, a clinical psychologist at Special Prison for Women in Karachi, told The News that some children have to stay in prison because that was where their mother was lodged. According to her, around 89 women are currently lodged in Special Prison for Women, among whom the children of around 12 women are also staying with them at the prison. She suggested that it was beneficial for minor children to live with their mothers in order to avoid the negative consequences of being separated. However, it also subjects them to the harshness of the prison environment.

She says that some of the children are much older than seven years, adding: “We have cases that some of the children are over 10 years old, but because we don’t have any shelters and the children don’t have any relatives, so they are kept in the prison”. She says that if a mother is willing, then children are sent to SOS Children Village, a private social welfare organization providing shelter to abandoned children.

Sadaf Rehman, who provides counselling to women prisoners, said that they had been trying to create a good environment for these children, but prison was no place for children. “Prison affects the psychology and habits of children. The children who live with criminals are treated like criminals and they will most probably be future criminals.”

She says that the Special Prison for Women is comparatively better than the women prisons of other provinces since it is fairly safe and has a school for children. “The women prisoners teach them and they are paid salary by an NGO. These children also get an opportunity to visit parks and different recreational spots once or twice a month.”

About the expecting mothers in prison, she says that lady doctors use to visit them regularly and there is no food shortage or lack of health services.

She said that the women inmates often recall that their children were not being looked after properly at their homes. She, however, added that they were trying to provide alternatives since these children were quite prone to turn criminals while growing up in the prison environment.

Sadaf Rehman said that the children they talked to narrated constant acts of violence in prison i.e. violence between guards and the women inmates, between the women and the children. “We also received complaints from children about the fights among their mothers at the prison.”

She, however, added that since a woman used to undergo physical and emotional turmoil at the prison, her kids need to be kept away for their own good. Still, the question is whether society can legitimately punish women for their crimes without ruining their children’s lives? The fate of these children leaves great consequences for society.

Source: The News