The plight of children living with their convicted mothers in Kenyan prisons paints a distressing picture of innocence entangled in an unjust web of a criminal world.
These minors, burdened with sentences they did not commit, are a poignant reminder of the complexities the vulnerable within society face.
Despite the legal provisions such as the Person Deprived of Liberty Act (2014), allowing convicted mothers to stay with their children under the age of four, this situation underscores the urgent need for reform.
Why so? Trapped within the confines of correctional facilities, these children grapple not only with the absence of conventional childhood but also with the stigma and emotional detachment subsequent to their circumstances.
A photo of Konoin MP Brighton Yegon at a meeting on August 12, 2023
The children also rely on donations for essentials like clothing. The limited budget allocation from the national government worsens their situation.
This concerning state of affairs prompted Brighton Yegon, Konoin MP in March 2023, to seek Parliament’s intervention to end the plight of the minors.
In a notice of Motion, Yegon called upon the State Department of Social Protection to care for children whose mothers have been arrested or imprisoned, even if they are above four years old.
Yegon argued, “Children above the age of four years still require parental support. The majority of the children often suffer from emotional distress, social stigma, and economic hardships.”
On August 23, the National Assembly passed a motion urging the State Department for Social Protection and Senior Citizen Affairs to develop and implement a program for the care of children above the age of four years whose parents are under lawful custody.
Challenges the Children Face
One downside pointed out was that children with convicted parents lack sufficient economic resources, impacting them negatively.
Some turn to negative vices like negative behaviours like drug abuse and theft, which can lead to their incarceration.
Besides spending their early behind prison walls, these children also endure the painful experience of being separated from their mothers at the tender age of four.
While some are fortunate to reunite with their mothers after a while, others whose mothers are serving life sentences must bear the sorrow of never living with them at home.
Some of these children who have spent their formative years in prison have faint memories of their early childhood.
In 2021, a study by the Africa Early Childhood Network on the Status of Children in Women’s Prison in Kenya: The Case of Langata Women’s Prison revealed that at least 250 children are in prison.
A statement from the Ministry of Interior issued after the report revealed it was hard to protect children living in prison due to the lack of a conducive environment.
The entrance to the Lang’ata Women’s Maximum Security Prison
Good Samaritan Intervention
Moved by the heartbreaking stories from prison, Peter Meienberg, a Swiss clergyman, established the Faraja Foundation at Lang’ata Women’s Prison.
The Faraja Foundation functions as a daycare for children with imprisoned parents, providing basic needs and a playground where they can interact with each other.
“I realised that prisoners needed more than just spiritual nourishment; they were living in very bad environments, and so I set up Faraja Foundation, and through the help of friends and my family, we have been able to touch the lives of inmates in a positive way,” he stated in a past interview.
The Nest Children’s Home is another organisation that takes care of imprisoned mothers.
Located in Limuru, the home, operational since 1997, offers support to children who have been separated from their mothers after attaining the age of four.
“In order to maintain the bond between the children and their imprisoned mothers, the Nest ensures the children regularly visit their mothers in prison,” reads part of the home’s website.
Right to Education
In August 2022, former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i launched the Prisons Childcare Policy, which authorised the Kenya Prisons Service to provide quality care for children of convicted mothers.
Matiang’i stated that the policy prioritises the growth and development of children below four years.
What the Law Says
Article 53 of the Constitution states that a child’s best interest is of paramount importance in every matter concerning him or her.
The Children’s Act of 2010 states that a child has the right to live with and be cared for by his parents.
“Where the court or the Director determines in accordance with the law that it is in the best interests of the child to separate him from his parent, the best alternative care available shall be provided for the child. Where a child is separated from his family without the leave of the court, the Government shall provide assistance for the reunification of the child with his family,” reads part of the act.
The African Charter on the Rights of the Child Article 30 calls for State Parties to offer special treatment to expectant mothers and to the mothers of infants and young children who have been accused or found guilty of breaking the law.
Under the charter, such parents should be sentenced to death or imprisoned with their children.
“Ensure that non-custodial sentence will always be first considered when sentencing such mothers. Establish special alternative institutions for holding such mothers,” reads part of the charter.
A photo of various women from prisons in Thika undergoing training in August 2023