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Locked up with mum: Zimbabwe’s child prisoners

Babies and children are sharing prison cells with their mothers as they await trials ranging from murder to pick-pocketing.

Zimbabwe’s decade-long economic problems mean prison food is in short supply and there are no special arrangements for children. Babies share their mother’s blankets.

Twenty-four year old mum, Sarah Moyo, has spent three months at the Central Remand Prison, in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, awaiting trial for throwing scalding water on her husband's lover. Her one year old son with her is sick.

"I just wish I could have a good lawyer who will successfully apply for bail for me - raising a child in this situation is like living in hell," she told the United Nations news service, Irin.

According to prison officers, there are about 15 mums in the same prison with children aged from newborns to five year olds. A four year old who was born days after her mother was remanded, is one of the longest serving children in the overcrowded prison. The mother is still awaiting trial for murder.

The prison tries as much as possible to provide baby food to the children living with their mothers,” a prison official told Irin. “But there is a general shortage. In some cases the mothers feed on their baby’s food because they are also starving. I have worked in seven prisons and the situation is pretty much the same in all jails. Children imprisoned with their mothers are in a sorry state. They are serving time for crimes they did not commit.

At another Harare jail, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, a senior prison official said there are as many as 12 babies imprisoned with their mothers in its female section. “There are 12 babies here and they range from between zero and four years and there are three pregnant women,” she told Zimbabwe newspaper, The Standard.

More than 300 children are in Zimbabwe's jails with their mothers, the Zimbabwe Association of Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation estimates. Most of them are younger than two-years-old.

More than 51 per cent of Zimbabwe’s prisoners are HIV positive. But medicines for any illness barely exist in the prisons and because pregnant mothers with HIV can’t go to hospital, many risk unnecessarily passing the virus on to their babies.

In 2008, the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender said there were 55 prisons in Zimbabwe, with the capacity to hold 17,000 inmates. But more than 35,000 people were estimated to be in jail.

Hayley attribution