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MOTHERS who are behind bars for petty crimes should get alternative punishment instead of being locked up in prison.
"The law allows other forms of sentencing other than incarceration. Our prisons are not user-friendly for women and children; they are just halls which were designed for men - hardened criminals," said Correctional Services Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.
Mkhize was speaking at the Pretoria Central Prison yesterday where she was handing Christmas gifts to incarcerated mothers and their children.
She said the majority of women behind bars committed commercial crimes like stealing clothes and napkins for their children, "so we should look at other alternatives instead of locking them in prisons".
Mkhize said 129 innocent babies are suffering for their mother's sins country-wide.
The event was an initiative by prisons officials to give love and compassion to the inmates and to help them feel good even though they were spending the festive season behind bars.
One of the mothers, Lydia Boysen from Namibia, said she found out she was one-month pregnant with Derrol while she was already in prison. Boysens, 23, who is serving a nine-year sentence for dealing in drugs, said the magistrate was lenient as she felt she deserved stiff sentence for her crime.
"I came to South Africa to further my studies, but I met friends who introduced me to the world of drugs. I was working for a druglord, smuggling drugs from Brazil to South Africa. I was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in March after I was found in possession of drugs," she said.
Another inmate, Sthulusiwe Mahlangu, 24, said: "I was two months pregnant when I was arrested for shoplifting. I regret what I did and have learned the hard way."
She has a one-month-old baby, Abigirl.