Babies don’t belong in jail cells

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It’s impossible to ignore it. The idea that a mother is sharing a custody cell with her two-month-old baby over a debt she has not been able to pay is chilling. 

It’s not only cruel; it could possibly be a violation of the baby’s human rights. 

It would certainly be interesting to hear the thoughts of the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution about this issue. 

We say this because even without knowing the intricacies of human rights law and how they can be applied to this case, a custody cell is not the place for two-month old baby regardless of the circumstances. 

Surely this has to be one of the cruelest decisions we’ve been told about in a while. The worry is that it is happening far too often on these shores.

We are well aware of two other cases where toddlers were kept in the cells with their parents.

Now last week, another similar case surfaced. This time it is the case of a young mother and her two-month-old baby who are in custody at Tafa’igata Prison after she failed to repay $1,147 she borrowed from another couple. 

The story surfaced when the woman’s mother, Aveave Sio, shared her fears about her children’s lives.

“Any parent and any mother would never want to see her children, especially daughter going through something like that,” Aveave said. 

 “And I hope no other mother would go through what I am going through. 

“I am more concerned about my grandson. He is only two months old and he is living in a different environment. I am not sure if it is safe for the two of them to be there. It’s just too much for me to handle. 

Aveave added that her whole family has been traumatized by what has happened.

 “It’s been hard ever since they took her to jail. She’s got eight children, and her husband is working. I am looking after them right now. It’s hard to look at them most of the time as they are always looking for their mother most of the time, especially my grand-daughters.”

This is an extremely sad story. 

Any parent would understand the struggles. 

We accept that the mother owes money that she should have paid. 

But is there no other way of dealing with the issue especially given her situation with her children?

Now according to the Assistant Commissioner of Samoa Prisons and Correction Services, Ulugia Sauafea Aumua, Tafi’au Kini is held at Tafaigata on a Warrant of Committal. He added that having babies and their mothers in prison at the same time is nothing new. 

“Breaking up the (relationship) between a baby and a mother is not ideal,” he said. “We actually have no choice, although the baby is always innocent in these situations. But we also have to consider his or her well being especially if they are young. We can’t just break their relationship with their mother.” 

Ulugia said their policy is that they keep mothers and babies in a different cell.

Ulugia emphasised the law does not forbid having babies in prison. 

“Babies shouldn’t be in prison full stop!” he said. 

“But under Convention for the Right of the Child (C.R.C), we need to protect the right of the child. And we can’t keep them apart from their mothers. 

“So I think it is best for them to be with their mothers especially if they are young and still being breastfeed by their mothers. 

“So for Tafi’au’s case, she is still here in prison. 

“She is still going to be here until we get another note from the Registrar for her to be released. 

“But she still needs to pay the money even after she serves her time here.”

Well pay the money, she needs to. And we’re pretty sure that can organised – if it hasn’t been done already.

But that poor baby does not deserve to be in that cell. 

That’s what we think anyway.

What about you? Do you think it’s okay for mothers and their babies to be locked up together?

Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!

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