Dipuo Maleka dreads the day when she will be separated from her 15-month-old son.
Maleka, 32, is serving a four-year sentence at Johannesburg Prison for fraud. When her son, Junior, turns two in December he will be forced to leave the care of his mother and live with relatives as required by law.
In the past children could live in prison with their mothers until they were five years old.
'Letting him go is going to be painful but my heart breaks when the prison officials open the gate every morning. He gets excited every time, wanting to go outside to play," Maleka said.
Maleka was sentenced when her son was three months old and chose to live with him in prison.
"I could not leave him with his father because he could not take care of him. I also needed to bond with my child, who was too young to be left in the care of someone else," she said.
Maleka is one of 1370 women incarcerated in Gauteng prisons, 38 of whom share cells with their children. Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Hlengiwe Mkhize and Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya launched the Imbeleko project at the prison last Wednesday.
Mkhize said the aim of the initiative, which has been launched in five provinces since last August, was to create a "humane, secure and friendly" environment for mothers and children in correctional facilities. The Othandweni Children's Home in Soweto has been chosen as a placement centre for children of offenders who cannot be left in the care of relatives.