Senate resumes amendment of Prisons Act to accomodate pregnant, nursing prisoners

A bill seeking to make the Nigeria Prisons Service give special treatment to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children in prison facilities moved a step further at the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill, which was sponsored by the lawmaker representing Lagos-Central Senatorial District, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, is titled, ‘An Act to Amend the Prison Act Cap P.29 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 to Provide for a Mother and Baby Unit for the Care of Female Prisoners Who Are Pregnant Nursing Mothers and Their Babies and for Related Matters.’

Tinubu, while leading the debate on the bill during Wednesday’s plenary, said it was disheartening to see infants living with their mothers in the prisons, “where movement is restricted, freedom restrained and liberty impeded.”

She said it was a common knowledge that the phenomenon had the potential of impeding the all-round growth of the infant and might cause retardation, stating that the development was the basis for the amendment.

The lawmaker said, “The incidences of women going to serve jail term while they are pregnant or nursing infants is known to many nations of the world, but while some nations have found solutions to the problem by way of legislation, Nigeria has left these matters to chance and the magnanimity of individuals and charities.

“My colleagues in the Seventh Assembly would recall that the plight of infants in prisons gave cause for concern, which prompted the members of the Women Affairs Committee of the Senate to embark on an oversight visit to Suleja Prisons in 2013, where members expressed their concern and pledged assistance.

“This bill attempts to provide solution by ensuring that prison authorities provide special accommodation to meet prenatal and postnatal needs of pregnant inmates, designate structures as nursery to be staffed by qualified persons, where the infants shall be placed when they are not in the care of their mothers; and to fight against stigmatisation of babies born in prisons by providing that the circumstances of their birth shall not be included in their birth certificate.”

Quoting statistics by the NPC, Tinubu said as of March 2013, there were 69 infants living with their mothers in Nigerian prisons.

She stated that although the number might fluctuate, the fact remained that there was the need to make special provision for these categories of prisoners.

Mrs. Tinubu added, “While some of the solutions proffered such as providing separate accommodation for pregnant women, nursing mothers, breastfeeding sections and nursery/creche facilities in prisons may have cost implications, it is all achievable.

“I am calling for a replicate of the provisions made by the maximum prisons at Kirikiri, Lagos, to enable us to meet with the minimum world best practices as stipulated in many international conventions and treaties.”

While supporting the bill, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna-Central), decried that the NPC “remained one institution that refused to go with the tide,” while describing it as a colonial establishment that had remained so till date.

He said, “What has changed in the last 60 years about the Nigeria Prisons Service is simply that the uniform being worn by the inmates changed from white to navy blue and, apart from that, there is virtually nothing to show that there has been any change.

“Nigerian prisons simply upgrade criminals from what brought them into that prison to what they were not before.

“They simply come back to us with what they have learnt. A pickpocket sent to the Nigerian prisons ‘graduates’ as an armed robber, and an armed robber sent to the prisons ‘graduates’ to become a kidnapper or a hired assassin.”

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, referred the bill to the Senate Committees on Interior and on Judiciary, which were mandated to report back to the chamber in four weeks.

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