Correctional services minister Ngconde Balfour has called for the sentences of mothers in jail to be converted to community service.
Balfour, dressed as Father Christmas, was speaking on Sunday at a party for children whose mothers are serving jail terms.
The function was attended by offenders from the main female facilities in the Eastern Cape.
"It is important that the regional correctional services management consider awarding more sentence conversions for mothers with children, especially those who are eligible for community-service sentences," said Balfour.
About 20 babies are currently being raised in Eastern Cape prisons where their mothers are serving sentences. The children's ages range from five weeks to four years.
Special child-care facilities are available in all female correctional centres.
"These children did not commit a crime against anyone," the minister said.
Balfour spent time hugging and cuddling the babies of the female offenders, taking time to speak, dance and play with them. He also gave gifts to the babies and their mothers.
The kids went away delighted with bags full of clothes, toys, games and food from "Father Christmas" Balfour.
Nosipho Kwaza, a female prisoner, said she was grateful to the minister for playing the role of father to them and their children.