Prison And Human Right: Pregnancy, Childbearing and Caring for Young Children; (Buea Central Prison, Cameroon)
The main objective of this Prison and Human Rights research is to sensitize the prison administration to Human Rights issues and to suggest mechanisms to effectively monitor prison conditions and to ensure the promotion and protection of detainees in line with Human Right norms. According to the Cameroonian Penal Code, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children may not be admitted to prison and, by implication, there are no facilities to cater for these vulnerable categories of prisoners. Yet pregnant women are arrested occasionally and they deliver children in prison and some women are sentenced as nursing mothers. Cameroon like most African countries suffers from poor economic and political instability. This situation affects its people cutting across all sphere of life and undermines any age group. Today, African countries are noticing a rise in the population of its youths thereby bringing about challenges in the economy and professional milieu to absorb the youth who leave higher institutions of learning and get in to the job hunt. This pressure inevitably leads to other vices in order to meet or satisfy certain human wants. Notable among these vices is a sharp rise in crime and drug use. Insecurity and illness becomes the order of the day and at the end of it all, they find themselves in the drag net of the forces of law and order and eventually in to the prisons. No doubt today, the population of youths in our prisons is alarming.There is an implicit belief and practice that women are the primary caretakers of children – hence their imprisonment impacts on children both inside and outside of prison. This article first discusses the discrepancies between policy and practice regarding female inmates and their children in the Cameroonian penitentiary system. It then goes on to show how pregnancies, deliveries and being a mother are dealt with by female prisoners, given the constraints under which they are living. The research is based on observations and interviews of 30 inmates (both male and female) at the Buea central prison in Cameroon. The data for this article is based on qualitative analysis of the narratives of 10 female inmates, who have experienced motherhood in prison, interviews with ten prison staff members and three volunteer working in close collaboration with these inmates. The study was approached with standpoint feminist/masculine theories as a point of departure. This situation now puts the government in an uncomfortable seat to accommodate the ever growing population of the prison milieu and also a sharp rise on the budget to feed and cater for detainees whether awaiting trial or already sentenced. Most of the prison facilities in Cameroon were constructed more than 40 years ago to accommodate a very limited number of detainees but due to a fast growing population and a rise in crime wave, these facilities’ have become obsolete to accommodate the law offenders. This situation has given rise to other challenges in our prison such as malnutrition, poor sanitary habits, diseases, internal crimes, homosexuality, lack of qualified personnel’s, drug abuse, intoxication and gross violation of human rights. The effect of these abuses has led to an outcry of civil society organization and the International Community as many deaths have been recorded but under-reported. Cameroon is a signatory to many International Instruments amongst which the Universal Declarations of Human Rights of 1948.
Key words - Prison, pregnancy, children, mothers, Cameroon, penal policy