The High Court in Zomba has granted bail, pending review, to a young woman who gave birth while serving her four-year custodial sentence at Zomba Central Prison.
The 18-year-old woman was convicted and sentenced to 48 months imprisonment with hard labour for burglary and theft in February 2015.
She was already pregnant at the time of her arrest and delivered her baby while in prison in August this year.
During her trial in the lower court, the convict had no legal representation and, as such, she did not appreciate the importance of bringing her pregnancy condition before the court to be taken into consideration in sentencing.
In mitigation, the woman raised the issue of already being a mother to a three-year-old, but this was not taken into consideration by the court.
However, after the woman sought help on her condition from prison rights activists Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc), the two parties took the case to the High Court.
Upon hearing the case, Judge Redson Kapindu ordered the prison to release the woman on bail, pending judicial review.
Commenting on the matter, Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango appreciated the court’s decision to give the woman bail.
He said: “Prison is not an ideal place to raise a baby especially considering that this mother may be serving an illegal sentence as her case is yet to be reviewed.”
International guidelines recommend taking into account the best interests of the child in decisions relating to incarceration of caregivers and generally encourage non-custodial arrangements for women with young children where possible and appropriate. n