Rwanda is one of the many African countries with overcrowded prisons and one can’t say with confidence that these figures will go down overnight - precisely because many Genocide suspects are still waiting for trial despite the fact that many cases have been disposed of, thanks largely to the work of Gacaca traditional courts.
The countrywide human rights awareness efforts in jails carried out by Members of Parliament on the Human Rights Commission is a good initiative because there is a need to promote respect of human rights everywhere: including in prisons.
But human rights abuses should not be the only point of concern. We still have a problem which call for an immediate solution; children in prisons.
Women in Gitarama prisons, told the MPs that their children are living under alarming conditions, poorly fed and deprived of other necessities a child needs for proper upbringing.
The Director of National Prisons Service, Steven Barinda, last year said about 400 children lived in prisons countrywide.
While I’m not sure whether anything has been done since then, this situation is a big blow to the family unit and the country given that a country’s future is dependent on its youth.
It is imperative that the government looks into ways of removing these poor children from prisons in an effort to model upright youth. Children cannot be raised in these circumstances without consequence.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion must not ignore the reality that many criminals are people who have lacked proper upbringing and have copied behaviour from their peers. These children in prisons interact with criminals which is unfair situation to put them in.
How much is being done to extend love to children in prisons and ensure that they are properly looked after like any other children?
Some of these children were born outside prisons, but we must also accept that there is sexual activity which goes on among inmates.
How much is being done to distribute condoms to inmates such that those engaging in it can do so with protection?
We shall be killing two birds with one stone: preventing unwanted pregnancies in prisons while at the same time preventing transmission of HIV among inmates-some of whom engage in unprotected sex with fellow inmates or prison wardens -and are most likely spreading the virus.
It is equally vital to explore the possibility of sensitising women inmates on family planning. How do we ensure that more children are not born in detention centres?
Part of the problem is that women keep engaging in unprotected sex but we cannot justify having children living in detention centres.
Once parents are in prison, they shouldn’t have the responsibility to take care of the children; there has to be another way. Once you leave that task to them you end up having to deal with a bigger problem in the future.
I do not believe any child should suffer in prison because of the crimes of his or her parents.
The effects of living children in prison centres will be a wasted generation. We should not be so naïve to think that an upright child can be brought up in a detention centre.
Journalist, The New Times.