Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Born and living in Jail

By Bhekumuzi Mdakane

Born and living in Jail

While every child deserves a happy and healthy environment to start of a journey in this world they are born into, for some children their adventure starts off behind bars due to crimes committed by their mothers.

A forgotten group that many don’t speak of are the children born in jail, Romy Titus a TV and radio journalist, producer and voice artist began her mission of helping children when she discovered in the year 2000 that there are women sentenced during their pregnancy and give birth during their incarceration.

Titus is the Founder and Director of Babies Behind Bars (BBB) based in Johannesburg which she started seven years later in 2007, a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) and also happens to be a Non -Profit Organisation (NPO).

 “We’re ‘Babies Behind Bars’ and our mission is to care for children who are born in prisons to incarcerated mothers. The age focus is 0-2 as a child by law may only be with their mothers in prisons up to this age and no older – so to extend the age would be pointless as there are no children older than 2 years in prisons.” Titus says

Babies Behind Bars believes that no baby should start their lives in a cage “Our initiative is to ensure that each prison born baby everywhere in South Africa and Africa have the building blocks to be happy and healthy. We hope to touch the lives of every child subjected to life in prison on the African continent.” Sourced from their website

 “The children need to live a ‘normal’ life even though they find themselves in the worst off circumstances. It would be great is every prison had a play space outdoors dedicated to outside play time, well equipped crèches, a toy library and educational toys to ensure that early childhood development is on track.” Titus said Warm heartedly.

The charity goes to correctional centres throughout South African prisons and beyond the borders in countries such as Namibia and Swaziland giving hope to the mothers who are jailed whilst they are pregnant making sure that their kids receive, warm clothing, nappies, blankets, bottles, toiletries, proper nutrition and toys to play with.

She moves on to say “Making a difference would be our biggest achievement! Every second month we’re able to donate much needed goods to all the prisons we’re affiliated to and to reach this goal in itself with no financial backing is an achievement in itself.”
“Unlocking hope” is a motto BBB lives by and their helping hands assure the babies wellbeing from month in month out during the two year period they spend living in isolation.

 “Day to day, month to month, year to year... At the moment we’ve averaging at about 800 in South Africa and about 20 in Swaziland from our latest in house statistics.” She says
BBB has what they call Drop off and Packing Days where volunteers can drop off any thing that they may want donate and then it moves on to the packing of all the things they received heading straight to the correctional centres throughout the country and the rest of the continent.

“We have monthly themed drives, packing and drop off days which we’re always busy with. Our website houses all initiatives that we’re involved in. Our biggest projects of the year are Mandela Day, Corrections Week and International Day of the Child. We’re currently piecing together our BIG October even in conjunction with the Department of Correctional Services” says Titus

Working closely with shelters or homes such as Ratanang Home for Children with Multiple Disabilities, Rifilwe Project, Jan Nicholson Home and Hospital School Babies Behind Bars brings a new meaning to helping those in need.

However Titus mentions “Our focus is to assist children while they are with their mothers only. This is our purpose and mission. Children exceeding two years have to either leave to stay with a family member who is able to care for the child or they’re placed in homes which the department of Correctional Services and Child welfare handle.

A cry for help is not yet heard for the basic need in storage facilities, office space, disposable Nappies, educational toys, baby toiletries, courier (South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland), baby and toddler toys, food and formula

“We operated in every prison in the country that house mothers and children. We’ve not been fortunate enough to physically visit each and every one of them due to financial constraints but we have visited Upington, Pollsmoor, Johannesburg, Durban, Kroonstad and Oudtshoorn.” Titus says

Knowing that 85% of prison officials have no training in working with children BBB is asking for a helping hand with them currently having a packing day on Saturday 31st August 2013 from 10:00 till 14h00 collecting summer clothing and baby goodies.

“Nappies, food, formula, toiletries and educational toys will be welcome as we gear towards fulfilling every child’s Christmas wish”. Drop off happens Johannesburg between 10am and 11am on Saturday 28th September 2013. These Drop off and Packing Days will go on until 23 November 2013 for more information email info@babiesbehindbar.com
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