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Consider pregnant prisoners’ plight
The Standard (Zimbabwe)
November 11, 2013

Zimbabwe’s constitution says categorically that the death penalty cannot be imposed on women, whatever their age.

This must have been the message coming out of the national outreach programme that preceded the drafting of the national constitution.

The fact that the nation was unanimous in coming up with this edict means there is something “special” about women. It might be almost impossible to define this universally-acknowledged “special” attribute.

Many commentators have criticised the law alleging it constitutes discrimination. But the law might be inspired by the sense that for women to commit serious offences such as murder which call for capital punishment, the circumstances must surely be so difficult as to give them no choice. It’s like when a cat is cornered.

Giving birth is considered, in almost all societies, a sacred rite and many matriarchal societies give women demigod status. In Zimbabwe, the mantra is that giving birth is a national duty; the very survival of the nation depends on it.

This brings us to the emotional matter of pregnant women and women with babies languishing in the country’s prisons. Not only does this contradict the national duty mantra but it also impacts the young children’s right to freedom and to be raised in an atmosphere conducive to their full development.

Like waiving the death sentence on women, custodial sentences should also be waived for pregnant women and those with young babies, unless such custodial sentences are to protect the women and the children.

There are several ways pregnant women and women with babies can be punished for their crimes without sending them to our crowded and legendarily filthy gaols. Some have suggested the open prison system as the best way out. Community service has also been suggested.

Another way might be to release them into the hands of their traditional leaders or their church. This way they will undergo rehabilitation, while they are among their own people. The church is also good in inculcating good moral values. The village head, or church leader would come up with a programme the women have to follow strictly so they done revert to crime. Only very exceptional cases should be incarcerated.

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