Cape Town - Organisations and associations representing inmates have raised concerns over babies who are behind bars with their mothers this winter through the projected highest and most vulnerable period when Covid-19 is at its peak.
The South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation chairperson, Phindile Zweni, said babies behind bars were born in prison when their mothers were sentenced during their pregnancies.
“Lawfully under the Correctional Services Act, mothers can keep their babies up until the age of three years. Thereafter they have to release their babies to family or foster care,” he said.
Zweni said the challenge faced by many incarcerated mothers was that they themselves had come from families who abused them, so they had to keep their babies with them.
“With the Covid-19 pandemic escalating in our country it would be very harmful and these babies would be most exposed to abusive families or foster care. The only option is their mothers should be placed under house arrest with immediate effect,” he said.
According to Correctional Services Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Correctional Services was 1076, with 433 officials and 643 inmates being infected.
Nxumalo said there had been eight deaths as a result so far. Five of those deaths were in the Western Cape and three in the Eastern Cape.
The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights president Golden Miles Bhudu called for the release of parents with dependent children.
Bhudu said those who gave birth while in prison and those women who, after having endured many years of abuse, “took the law into their own hands and murdered the abusive husbands, fiancées or boyfriends, or got a hit man to do the job each and every case must be judged on its merit”.