Staff at some correctional centres expressed concern that the lack of adequate logistical support, particularly private transportation, is endangering women’s lives because when a pregnant woman needs to give birth there is no transportation system in place to take her to the hospital. This was according to the “Woman Wahala Na Prison” report published by two human rights organisations, the Cyrus R. Vance Centre for International Justice and AdvocAid. The study focuses on the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment in Sierra Leone, and compares policy and practice on women’s detention against the country’s obligations under international standards and human rights law.
According to interviewees, pregnant women in prison are usually cared for by nurses in the correctional centres and taken to hospital for antenatal care when necessary. When women give birth, they are taken to a government hospital. The researchers discovered that women are provided plain clothes during their transportation to the hospital or pre-natal or post-natal care, to protect their dignity. In accordance with international standards, women giving birth are not shackled or restrained. They are usually escorted by several correctional centre officers. In a few correctional centres, pregnant women are provided with additional food and toiletries.
“This is not always the case due to the limited budget. Sometimes, when the supplies provided by the government run out, correctional centre officers use their own money to take care of the pregnant women,” according to the report. “I gave birth while in prison. They took me to the government hospital and I was not handcuffed. I decided to keep the baby with me in prison,” said a woman in prison. Only two women that were interviewed were pregnant, and one woman reported having given birth at a government hospital while in detention. Eighty-eight percent of women interviewed had children outside prison; a total of 153 children. Of those, 127 were minors at the time of the mother’s arrest.
Following considerable lobbying by the Legal Aid Board, legal professionals, and civil society organisations, the government passed new, important bail regulations in 2018, which state that a court in Sierra Leone must now take into account whether the defendant is pregnant, a lactating mother or a primary caregiver. Consideration must also be given to the health status of the defendant and to whether s/he has physical or mental disabilities. ZIJ/12/08/2020
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque