No fewer than 33 infants are trapped at the various prison facilities in the country, LEADERSHIP Sunday investigations have revealed.
Our correspondents who visited some of the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCoS) across the country report that pregnant women and those raising babies are a regular feature of the facilities.
The public relations officer of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), Francis Enobore confirmed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that there are 33 children currently in the various correctional centres across the country, as at the time of filing this report.
Enobore however explained that such children who are below 18 months are allowed to stay in the centres with their mothers as provided by the law.
“It is after the age of 18 months that such children are relocated to children care centres; or the relatives of such mothers are allowed to take such children if their mothers are still serving their jail terms,” he said.
The NCoS spokesperson revealed that up to date vaccinations of children of the female inmates are ensured.
He said, “We ensure humane treatment of incarcerated women, and provide adequate health services for women (and their infants and children) in prisons as mandated under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 3, 5, and 16, as well as under United Nations instruments; Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners . We have their interest at heart.”
“Yes, mankind owes the child the best that it has to give to them. The health conditions and rights of these children incarcerated with their mothers must be protected”.
Enobore further hinted that there are provisions for educational facilities at the correctional centres, adding that such children are accommodated in the three major female correctional centres located in Lagos, Ogun and Edo states, including other centres scattered across the country.
He said, “As of December 2, 2021, we have a total of 33 children in various correctional centres across the country.
The United Nations Children’s Fund Child Justice Consultant, Dr Wilfred Mamah, had recently disclosed that there were many Nigerian children languishing in prisons across the country.
Mamah disclosed this in Lagos at a one-day Sensitisation meeting on Diversion Community Rehabilitation Programme with media practitioners.
Also, a report recently released by the African Union on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian child revealed that an estimated 6,000 children live in prisons and detention centres nationwide.
The report also added that despite an order by the government to identify and release such children and their mothers, the prison authorities are yet to do so.
This is contrary to the Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria enacted in 2003, which makes ample provisions for children who are in conflict with the law.
According to Part Two, Section 11, of the Act, “Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no child shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treating or punishment, held in slavery or servitude, while in care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”
Similarly, Section 15 dwells on the Right of a Child to Free, Compulsory and Universal Primary Education. It says, “Every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the government in Nigeria to provide such education.”
While Section 212 borders on Detention Pending Trial, Sub-section (2) provides that, “While in detention, a child shall be given care, protection and necessary assistance including social, educational, vocational, medical and physical assistance, that he may require having regard to his age, sex and personality.”
This is even as 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.”
But findings by LEADERSHIP Sunday revealed that scores of pregnant women and nursing mothers are in detention across correctional facilities in Nigeria.
It was learnt that while there is no immunity shielding pregnant women and nursing mothers who offend the law from prosecution, the government is yet to make deliberate provisions for babies living with their mothers in jail, a wardress further revealed.
A female correctional officer at one of the facilities visited said the infants were not spared by mosquitoes and bedbugs, as visible reddened spots are always seen on their legs, hands and even foreheads.
The prison warden who did not want her name in print however said these trapped children live on the goodwill of kind-hearted visitors to the various correctional facilities.
She said, “In fact, such individuals or groups are responsible for the baby’s food, clothes and toiletries. They get Cerelac, NAN, Peak 123 and Golden Morn. They share baby milk for nursing mothers.”
She added that these female inmates often get a ration of diapers for their babies, at least 13 each for two to three weeks.
According to her, the children are administered all necessary immunizations’ at the prison clinic, and most of them attend the prison’s crèche, which opens from 8am to 3pm for morning session and 6pm for evening session, daily.
Another officer who spoke with our correspondent at the Afokang correctional facility in Calabar said in the design of prisons across the country, deliberate provisions are not made for pregnant women and babies.
He said, “Therefore, every female inmate who is delivered of a baby in prison or goes there with one is faced will be in a dilemma. The law does not provide that women who give birth to babies in prison should be released and at that stage you cannot separate a newborn baby from the mother.
“The law allows inmates to be with their babies for up to 18 months. After 18 months, the family members take care of the children.”
Meanwhile, an inmate at the facility complained of inadequate ventilation, saying their cells have just two tiny windows that are far up the walls of the cells.
Meanwhile, a psychologist with the University of Calabar, Dr Akem Osang, 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”, Osang added, maintaining that 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.
He said, “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 mothers 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.”
Also, a consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, Dr Onu Justus, said in a normal environment when children are born they grow with other children, but children born to mothers in prison may be under stimulated.
His words: “They may not develop the way they would have if they were outside the prison, especially in areas like development of speech which is determined by stimulation – other people talking around the child. That actually stimulates development of language and speech. When a child is under stimulated, there may be delay due to environmental stimulation. So because of this, the child’s capacity to speak may be delayed.
“Survey has also shown that children born in prison are more prone to having emotional problems than children born to parents outside the facility”.
According to the physician, this is why people are considering what they call prison nursery, which allows children or infants of incarcerated mothers to have some form of education within the prison environment and that will stimulate what it looks like outside the prison environment.
Onu continued: “The thinking is that they could make the prison environment a little bit habitable for children who are born to mothers in prison. Studies have also shown that children who do nursery while in prison are better, comparable to other children that are born outside the prison walls.
“The prison environment takes away one’s freedom and liberty, and this is considered stressful to many people. Of course, if a woman develops emotional problems due to incarceration, that would also affect health seeking behavior even when she is pregnant and her communication with the child may reduce due to additional emotional problems from the mother”.
On his part, a human rights lawyer, Alhasan-Kazeem, said while there are various laws in Nigeria on how pregnant inmates and infants should be treated, implementation remains a challenge.