De Lima files bill to protect rights of pregnant and nursing women detainees, their children

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            Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure seeking to set up appropriate facilities in detention centers and prisons and introduce prison reforms in the treatment of women detainees, especially mothers and their children, to ensure that their right to life and human dignity are protected at all times.

            In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 1926, or the “Mothers Deprived of Liberty and their Children Act of 2020” last Nov. 23, De Lima stressed that human life, dignity and rights do not belong only to humans of the free world, but also even to mothers and their children inside detention facilities and prisons.

            “Children who are born to mothers deprived of liberty while they await trial or while serving their sentence, are born without sin – they should not thus be made to bear the wrath and cruelty of this world,” she said.

            “This measure hopes to be the catalyst that will shed a light into the horrors to which children born to mothers deprived of liberty have to live with and survive, that will make the world to which they have been born in better, and that will give them the compassion and mercy that children for all their innocence and purity rightfully deserve,” she added.

            De Lima cited the case of the late baby River Nasino, child of political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino, as compelling proof that reforms must be implemented swiftly and effectively on the laws that affect the rights of pregnant and nursing women deprived of liberty.

            It may be recalled that Reina Mae lost her pleas at the lower court to keep her baby inside the jail for a year, or for a hospital stay arrangement while breastfeeding her child after giving birth.

            Just a month after giving birth, the mother and child were separated and Baby River eventually died at only 3 months old, after suffering acute respiratory distress syndrome.

            “The tragic story unfolded before the public to witness – how a still nursing infant was so heartlessly snatched from her mother’s bosom, deprived of her mother’s breastmilk, which has long been scientifically proven to be effective in strengthening a child’s immune system, and caught in the middle of court pronouncements against her best interest,” said De Lima, a mother of two.

            It is proposed under SB No. 1926 that all infants born to women PDLs while the latter is under detention, shall remain with their mothers for the first twelve months after birth.

            “Thereafter, in allowing children to stay with their mothers while under detention or serving sentence, the best interest of the child shall be the paramount consideration,” she said.

            “Decisions as to when a child is to be separated from his/her mother after the twelve (12) months from birth, shall be based on individual assessments and the best interest of the child,” she added.

            SB No. 1926 is guided by several international laws and principles, including, among others, the Nelson Mandela Rules which requires member States to work towards establishing in women’s institutions “special accommodation for all necessary pre-natal and post-natal care and treatment.”

            It also took into consideration Article 30 on “Children of Imprisoned Mothers” from the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which seeks to provide special treatment to expectant mothers and to mothers of infants and young children who have been accused or found guilty of infringing the penal law. This mandates parties to ensure that a non-custodial sentence will be first considered when sentencing such mothers.

            “Non-custodial sentences for pregnant women and women with dependent children shall be preferred when possible and appropriate, with custodial sentences being considered only when the offense is serious or heinous in nature, after taking into account the best interest of the child or children, while ensuring that appropriate provision has been made for the care of such children,” said De Lima.

            Previously, De Lima filed SB No. 378 which seeks to protect female detainees from sexual harassment and other forms of abuse in the course of their incarceration. (30)

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