The Herald 6 March 2000
A BID by parliamentarian and traditional chief Jonathan Mangwende to ask the President to pardon imprisoned mothers serving time with their babies has apparently failed.
Winding up debate last Thursday on the granting of pardon for the mothers, Chief Mangwende lamented that the motion had not been adequately supported.
“I am now bringing this issue in another way. I am asking the Office of the President to enlighten us on whether the powers were used or not,” Chief Mangwende told Parliament.
A last minute attempt by another MP to contribute to the motion was rebuffed as the chief said if the member genuinely felt strongly about the issue, he should have spoken about it earlier.
Chief Mangwende said it was his wish when he introduced the debate last year that the President pardon the mothers in celebration of the new millennium in terms of his Presidential pardon powers.
“I am now saying to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs that these children who are in prison should be paid or compensated when their mothers are freed because they worked in the prisons helping their mothers,” he said.
He said in upholding the virtues of the rights of the children, the ministry should allow the parents of the children to decide which schools they could attend rather than impose prison schools for them.
“A prison is not a place for good deeds and certainly nothing good is expected to come out of there,” Chief Mangwende said.
He said the pardon would have been in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children which sought to promote and protect the rights of the child.
LESSONS FOR TODAY
In several Zimbabwean prisons, babies and toddlers live with their mothers who are serving time. While keeping young children with their mothers is a good thing, they however need to get better support.
If children living with their imprisoned mothers are not given necessary basics, they end up seeming as though they are also serving a jail sentence.
Both Government and the private sector should continue to proffer support for these children since they have a right to education, food, clothing and even good health.
Fathers and relatives of children in this state should also step-up and help by taking the children from prisons, to make sure that they get a normal life while their mothers are saving.
The impact on such children is devastating, with many facing financial hardships and significant disruption, such as being separated from siblings, thus the Government should continue to improve prison conditions for the proper upbringing of the children.
Best interests are rarely considered by the criminal justice system, and those affected face many barriers to getting support, thereby always presenting these children as victims of justice.