Similar to other children her age, 10-year-old Sylvia Nyiraseggiyava wanted to become a doctor after her education. She enjoyed education at Kamengo Primary School and lived a normal childhood until her life’s time clock momentarily stalled.
While at school, Sylvia was told that her mother, Laulensia Nyinabazungu, had been accused of murder and picked up by the police. “On reaching home, I discovered that my mother had been arrested and taken to Kamengo Police Station,” she says.
Feeling helpless, Sylvia’s elder sister went off to Rwanda, leaving the little girl under the care of an old man, who was not a relative. Sylvia’s mother insisted that she would rather stay with her daughter in Luzira Prison than let her live with a stranger. Prisons staff brought the girl to her.
Nyinabazungu was sentenced to 50 years in jail after the High Court sitting in Mpigi found her guilty of murder, making her the first woman in Uganda to receive such a sentence.
Today, Sylvia is one of the 43 children accommodated at the Luzira Prison, a home that accommodates children detained with their mothers.
In its 21 women detention facilities countrywide, the Uganda Prisons Service currently has 161 children detained alongside their mothers. With 43 children, Luzira Women’s Prison has the biggest number.
For many of them [detained women], the events leading to imprisonment rip apart their marriages. As a result, they are abandoned by their husbands.
Even after detention, newly-released mothers usually have no source of livelihood. As a result, some of them stealthily walk out of prison on release, leaving their children behind.
An ex-prisoner says she was sent locked up behind bars for murder while pregnant. Shortly after, she delivered and for almost ten years, she was in prison with her child because there was no one to take care of her. Even relatives abandoned her when she was convicted.
Upon release, she did not know where to go with her child. “Despite the fact that I was happy about being freed from jail, it was a trying moment since I was homeless. Being homeless and unemployed, I could not take care of the child. I made the toughest and most painful decision of my life of leaving my daughter behind.”
That day, she cried as she walked out of prison. “I said bye to my daughter as I left and promised the authorities that I would come for her as soon as I got a job and accommodation,” she narrates.
161 innocent children are languished in Ugandan Prisons because of crimes committed by their mothers.