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Pakistan Prisons' Mother-and-Infant Program Gets Mixed Reviews

Female prison inmates in Pakistan who have small children are allowed to have their children with them behind bars - sometimes for years. Experts say this practice can protect the children, but it can also scar them.

Mohib, aged five, has spent half his life in jail.

His mother, a convicted murderer, brought her sons into prison with her two-and-a-half years ago.

Sehar Bibi says her boys would rather be free, but there was no one else to care for them.

“It’s not good only because it’s a prison," she says. "Children want to roam around, they want to go to parks, they want to study outside.”

Often, imprisoned mothers do not trust the child-protection programs offered by the state.

Muhammad Hassan Mangi, who heads Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights, says children suffer as a result.

“We think that it is not appropriate for the psychological, mental development of a kid to be brought in to be taken care of within the jail premises because it has long, long, long psychological and social impacts on the child,” he said.

The mother-and-infant program was developed out of compassion for mothers. At age five, the children are supposed to leave.

But Muskan, aged seven, has been here two-and-a-half years.

Yasmeen Bibi, her mother, convicted of kidnapping, says Muskan is better off with her in jail.

“We are not able to keep ourselves as safe in the environment outside as we are in here,” she said.

Human rights advocate Anees Jillani explains why.

“They were scared that if they were kept with the father, the father may force them to get married at a very early age, or the father may even sell the daughters,” said Jillani.

According to the latest numbers from the Human Rights Ministry, in five jails surveyed, there were 68 children confined with their mothers.

But little is known how many have stayed on, or what happens to these prison children once they have to leave.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.