Keynote address by Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Ms Hlengiwe Mkhize, during the introduction of the Imbeleko project on babies behind bars, Kroonstad Female Correctional Centre
11 Dec 2009
Programme Director, Mr Rabaloi
His Royal Highness, Kgosi Mosia
Free State MEC for Social Development, Ms Ntombela
Executive Mayor of Moqhaka local municipality, Councillor Mokgosi
Deputy Regional Commissioner, Mr Ncongwane
Representatives of faith based organisations
Our inmates and their families
Ladies and gentlemen
Firstly, I would like to thank our colleagues in the Free State region, under the leadership of Regional Commissioner, Mr Zacharia Modise, for making it possible for us to visit the crown city, to roll-out the Imbeleko project. This is our third visit to the region. We are confident that the Imbeleko project will readily take root in this region and grow like the interlacing willow trees along the beautiful banks of your rivers.
May whatever protection and care measures we come up with for babies behind bars, spread like wings to inform an integrated provincial plan for all other children at risk in the province.
2. What is Imbeleko?
Imbeleko is a two-pronged initiative aimed at improving the lives of children who find themselves behind bars with their incarcerated mothers. The first pillar focuses on the creation of a humane, secure and home-like environment for the child within our correctional facilities. This entails converting existing cells into suitable mother and-child units. The aim is to make these units more stimulating for children and more comfortable for incarcerated mothers who must focus on the developmental needs of the children while serving their sentences.
Whatever emerges out of our interaction with mothers would inform our policy positions within the relevant Cabinet clusters and committees.
The second pillar involves finding suitable placement for children within our communities. The consent of mothers and the best interest of the child are central in this regard. We believe working together with other government departments, religious leaders, traditional leaders and civil society; it is possible to find alternative suitable accommodation for children. With your help we can build a caring society.
3. Regional implementation
We have challenged all our regions that our role is not to implement Imbeleko. Ours is to trigger the various regions to work even harder to create an environment conducive to the development of the children. We launched Imbeleko in the Eastern Cape, at the East London correctional centre, on 26 August 2009. On our arrival at the East London Correctional Centre, our officials had partnered with Child Welfare and other children’s organisations as well as influential individuals in the community, such as the beauty queen, former Ms Port Elizabeth, to provide special units for babies and their mothers.
In the KwaZulu-Natal region, we introduced Imbeleko at the Durban Westville correctional centre, on 18 September 2009. Last night, we received positive reports from our colleagues, saying that the First Lady in KwaZulu-Natal has made an announcement in our correctional centre, in Kokstad, that she has adopted Imbeleko as one of her projects. She promised to mobilise support for the project throughout the province and donated clothes and toys to children who were at the centre with their incarcerated mothers.
After KwaZulu-Natal, we went to the Western Cape region, where we launched Imbeleko at the Pollsmoor correctional centre, on 6 November 2009. We brought smiles to the faces of incarcerated mothers and their children by giving them gifts from babies behind bars, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) led by two young philanthropists from the media. Our Western Cape regional office has informed us that the region is already engaged in preparations for the placement of children within communities.
We launched Imbeleko in the Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga region on 27 November 2009, at the Polokwane correctional centre. In Polokwane, traditional leaders came upfront and vouched to support Imbeleko to the best of their ability. Khosi Netshimbupfe, who represented traditional leaders, said Imbeleko is an important project also for Amakhosi. He articulated the role of Amakhosi as being that of “dispensing justice”, but also of “showing mercy” to all the people, including children and those who’ve been in conflict with the law.”
His central message was that: “children are born innocent. They cannot and must not be punished for the sins of their parents”. He invited us to bring Imbeleko to all the areas of Amakhosi so that they can help in addressing the needs of the children. Kgosi Mosia, your presence today is valued. I am confident you agree with Khosi Netshimbupfe’s words that “ngwana ke wa rona rotlhe!”
Ladies and gentlemen, let us now talk about your region, consisting of the Free State and the Northern Cape.
In this region, we currently have 304 women offenders, out of a grand total of 20 013 inmates. Of the 304 women offenders, 32 are not sentenced and 272 are sentenced. Some may think these numbers are low. But one woman in a cell, is one woman too many! In this region, 11 mothers are incarcerated with their babies. There are eight children in Kroonstad two in Colesburg and one in Kimberly. The children are between three months and 23 months old.
The ages of mothers range from 19 to 38 years. Of the 11 mothers, only two have matriculated, one completed grade nine, two went up to grade eight, one did grade one, and the other five has no formal education, nine of the 11 mothers are single, one is divorced, and one is married. They are serving terms for the following offences: theft (three mothers), fraud and forgery (two mothers), child abuse (one mother), assault (one mother) and murder (four mothers). They are serving between 18 months and 15 years. All the mothers, except one, have other children at home.
The latter is the challenge we have picked up in all provinces and have made us to say that some of these cases should be treated on their own merit by considering alternative forms of sentencing. It strikes us that in this region, unlike in other regions; the highest crime category is aggressive crime, followed by economic crimes, narcotics and sexual offences. In other regions, the highest offences committed by incarcerated mothers are economic crimes, like fraud and theft. This fact, together with the educational and personal circumstances of the women involved, somehow point to the link between crimes committed and the socio-economic situation of offenders.
Using Free State as an example, in 2007, the unemployment rate stood at 30 percent. Most of the workforce consists of males. Poverty levels, as in the Northern Cape, are way too high. These inequalities pose a serious challenge to our Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policies and the need to address the plight of women through economic development.
4. The context
In our first budget vote, in June 2009, we promised to pay attention to the needs of the most vulnerable groups in our correctional centres. These groups include among others, women and children. Imbeleko is a concrete project through which we want to realise this ideal. Current statistics as of 10 December 2009 indicate that there are 120 babies within our correctional facilities nationally, distributed per region, as follows:
KwaZulu Natal: 20
Free State and Northern Cape: 11
Western Cape: 19
Eastern Cape: 7
We must emphasise the fact that the proportion of women in incarceration in any correctional system throughout the world varies between two to eight percent (two to eight percent). Our own statistics in South Africa bear testimony to this. The national offender profile using statistical data up to June 2008 shows that female offenders constitute 2.2 percent of the total sentenced offenders. Obviously, the growing numbers of women offenders compel us to address their needs and pay urgent attention to growing national trends.
With the help of religious leaders, we can build a caring and friendly society for our children. For this reason, we have invited leaders of faith based organisations, our traditional leaders, NGOs, the business sector, our sister departments, like Education, Justice, the Police and Social Development, and other civil society organisations, to partner with us so that together we can do more to promote human rights and basic needs of women and babies behind bars.
We appeal for help from religious and traditional leaders because they have cultural and moral authority. They resisted and survived attempts by colonisers to use the law to nullify their influence and authority. Faith based organisations stood on the side of the poorest of the poor, and the South African Council of Churches (SACC) at a certain point in our history became the government of the people.
We invite ka boikokobetso, religious leaders and traditional leaders, to help us promote values of human solidarity and fellow feeling. Through your intervention we can improve the lives of women and children. We have learnt from African cultural values that “your child is my child”. It is inconceivable why we should struggle to find suitable homes for babies beyond the age of two years, as required by the second pillar of Imbeleko and by the law.
The basis of our policy implementation and monitoring
There are lessons to be continually learnt from the policies of the ruling political party. The ANC, in Polokwane, vowed that the ANC led government should:
“Consolidate partnerships across society, to strengthen social cohesion, and ensure that our nation achieves the values of a caring society, inspired by the traits of human compassion which informed our struggle against colonialism. Indeed, the need to build cooperation among all South Africans, applies more so to matters of spiritual sustenance, such as beliefs and moral values, which are as communal as they are profoundly personal”.
The conference admitted that many of our people have been marginalised and economically excluded due to racial policies of apartheid rulers. For this reason, some have argued that offensive behaviour has to be understood within a broader social and economic context. At the Polokwane conference in 2007, the African National Congress (ANC) noted that:
“Poverty, inequality and joblessness are the consequences of centuries of underdevelopment and exploitation consciously perpetrated on the majority of the population, which had its most destructive and enduring impacts on rural South Africa. Consequently, the structural faults that characterised the apartheid rural economy remain with us today”.
Legal, policy and humanitarian United Nations instruments
Our Constitution imposes a duty on us to defend the rights of women and children. For instance, section 28(1) states that every child has the right to “family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment” and that every child has the right to “basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services”.
The Correctional Services Amendment Act of 2008 has made provision for an independent inspection of our correctional facilities, by the Judicial Inspectorate, to ensure that human rights of all inmates are upheld.
The Correctional Services Amendment Act has reduced the period that babies should spend inside with incarcerated mothers, from the previous five years to two years. This amendment is important because keeping children in correctional services for more than two years impairs their normal development and school readiness.
We are directed by this act to encourage our inmates to maintain contact with the community and to help them to keep abreast of current affairs. Accordingly, we are appealing to the church and leaders of faith based organisations to help us mobilise their communities and parents of inmates to support and visit those who are incarcerated.
Our approach to the human rights of inmates is guided by the United Nations’ Standard Minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, rule 55. This instrument calls for the inspection of penal institutions and services by qualified inspectors, appointed by a competent authority. We are bound by other international agreements to do all in our power to protect human rights of women and children. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child asks for interventions appropriate to the child’s wellbeing while under institutional care.
We follow with interest, the review of the United Nations Standard Minimum rules of Prisoners which got impetus from the work of Princess Bajrakitiyabha of Thailand, a renowned goodwill ambassador for the United Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). This Princess has called for the development of supplementary rules further to improve the treatment of women while in detention.
5. Concluding remarks
Lastly, united under the banner of Imbeleko, together we can do more to uphold the best interest of the child. Our collective responsibility could not have been articulated better other than by Advocate Phatekile Holomisa and the former First Lady, Ms Graca Machel. Advocate Phatekile Holomisa has reminded us that “children may not go hungry, they may not go unclothed, (and) they may not go uneducated. Any child is my child, and all adults must protect them”.
Ms Machel, a former United Nations Rapporteur on the study on the rights of children, has made a strong call to all of us, young and old, rich and poor, to protect and care for the child in your family, neighbourhood and community. All of us can enhance the wellbeing of a needy child by helping in finding alternative accommodation for babies living with their mothers behind bars.
As President Mandela said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children”.
I thank you.
Cell: 082 052 3499
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
11 December 2009
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
11 Dec 2009
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