Drug mule’s pain at be­ing parted from chil­dren

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JA­NIS KIN­N­EAR

THE PAIN of be­ing sep­a­rated from her three chil­dren while be­hind bars still lingers, along with the stigma she bears, thanks to her crim­i­nal past.

Though she fin­ished her jail term seven years ago, the Ma­nen­berg mother can­not hold back the tears as she re­calls the time she spent with­out any con­tact with her chil­dren.

Re­cruited as a drug mule af­ter sep­a­rat­ing from her hus­band, the 42year-old re­calls be­ing courted with money for clothes and food.

“I was go­ing through tough times… I car­ried co­caine – 2kg to 3kg was hid­den in my lug­gage at a time. They would redo the bag so when you opened it the drugs weren’t vis­i­ble. If you take 1kg you have to swal­low it and that gets mixed and mea­sured again… even from that 1kg they make mil­lions of rand,” she said.

The mother was at­tend­ing a round ta­ble on the ba­bies and chil­dren of women be­hind bars, hosted by crime preven­tion body Ni­cro. The woman is to­day part of the Prison Care and Sup­port Net­work.

Af­ter trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively, the woman was fi­nally caught at Italy’s Mi­lano Malpensa Air­port on Good Fri­day in 2005. “It was so em­bar­rass­ing and trau­matic, and the first thing I thought of was who’s go­ing to let my par­ents and chil­dren know,” she said.

It was still painful to think about what she put her chil­dren through.

“My kids may not have been in prison phys­i­cally but emo­tion­ally they were in prison right there with me,” she said, re­call­ing that she got the first let­ter from her fam­ily five weeks af­ter her ar­rest, and only spoke to her chil­dren on the phone three months later. She was par­doned af­ter the death of Pope John Paul ll and re­leased af­ter 18 months be­hind bars. Still, the scars linger.

She said some peo­ple were more cau­tious around her with their be­long­ings, and her el­dest daugh­ter still suf­fered from de­pres­sion.

Warn­ing other women not to be­lieve in the get-rich-quick op­tion, she urged them to rather work hard for what they wanted in life.

Ni­cro’s Venessa Pa­day­achee called the chil­dren of moth­ers in prison “in­vis­i­ble vic­tims” who were left with “last­ing scars”, in­clud­ing feel­ings of re­jec­tion and aban­don­ment.

There was a huge stigma at­tached when peo­ple found out a child’s par­ent had been jailed, and the child in turn felt “ashamed”.

In Au­gust, Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Min­is­ter Sibu­siso Nde­bele said South Africa had 3 505 fe­male of­fend­ers in prison, 980 of whom were remand de­tainees and 2 525 sen­tenced. Be­tween Jan­uary and March, the min­is­ter said, 282 moth­ers were in­car­cer­ated with their ba­bies.

Pa­day­achee said the chil­dren of jailed moth­ers were six times more likely to end up in prison them­selves.

More re­search was re­quired to ex­plore the im­pact of a child’s im­pris­on­ment with its mother, as well as of forced sep­a­ra­tion once the child was re­moved from her care when they turned two. Ni­cro iden­ti­fied a case which saw the child of an in­mate re­moved at the age of two, with the two see­ing each other again only two years later. The re­sult was that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mother and child broke down, cre­at­ing fur­ther prob­lems, in­clud­ing with fos­ter par­ents. Another prob­lem iden­ti­fied was of moth­ers who re­vealed they had ba­bies only once they were be­hind bars, leav­ing the child at risk.

In 2009, the Im­beleko Project es­tab­lished Mother and Baby Units at fe­male pris­ons across the coun­try. The Western Cape has two, one at Pollsmoor Prison and one in Oudt­shoorn, which is be­ing ren­o­vated.

Sta­tis­tics pre­sented dur­ing the round ta­ble showed a steady de­cline in the num­ber of ba­bies born in prison – from a high of 22 in April 2011 to 16 in Oc­to­ber this year.

When ba­bies are sep­a­rated from their moth­ers when they turn two, fos­ter care is or­gan­ised by state so­cial work­ers and wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tions.

ja­nis.kin­n­ear@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: THOMAS HOLDER

‘TRAU­MATIC’: A woman talks about her ex­pe­ri­ences and the ef­fect on her chil­dren while she was held in a prison in Italy for drug smug­gling.

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