THE number of children who find themselves in jail with their incarcerated mothers has drastically decreased, thanks to the imbeleko campaign established a year ago to look at the needs of children in jail.
Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Hlengiwe Mkhize, pictured, says when the campaign started there were 168 children at correctional facilities throughout the country. The number has since been reduced to 139.
"The number will always fluctuate because of newly admitted mothers," Mkhize says.
She says the campaign was launched after realising that children whose mothers were jailed were compromised because facilities were not conducive to their development.
She says when she visited correctional services facilities throughout the country she found that mothers with babies were accommodated in cells that were not designed with children in mind.
"There were insufficient units for mothers and babies, so babies were accommodated like other inmates who are there by themselves. There was also no model or methodology that was agreed on and accepted as a way forward," Mkhize says.
After the campaign was introduced child-friendly units were created. This included the installation of child-appropriate furniture, with toys to stimulate development in a play area and colourful walls.
Mkhize says the department also amended the Correctional Services Act so that mothers could keep babies with them until the age of two instead of five years.
"We had to consider what was in the best interest of the child. We will continue, within our limited resources, to create a child-friendly environment in our facilities," she says.
"Going forward we will emphasise the second pillar of the project, where we will spare no effort to find alternative secure protection centres, either with extended family members, government institutions or private homes for babies beyond the age of two leaving our centres.
"There is ongoing monitoring efforts to ensure that the process progresses without any problems."