Skip to main content

Children with incarcerated mothers

Blog Index
Recent Posts
Children with incarcerated mothers
Children with incarcerated mothers
By Joaquine De-Mello
Posted: 2024-03-18T15:26:34Z



Tanzania inherited the colonial governance of the German colonialists and British Territory in almost all of its executive systems and organs, including the prison system. The Prisons Act No. 34 of 1967, which amended and consolidated all the laws relating to prisons, governs this aspect. It provides for the organization, discipline, powers, and duties of prison officers and all matters incidental and connected thereto.

2022 Prison Population Statistics;                                                                                                

There are 32,671inmates, including the pretrial detainees popularly called remandees;

·      Remandees 50%

·      Convicts 50%

·      Female Prisoners 3.4% Juvenile and Minors 3.9%

·      Foreign inmates 3.7%

The country consists of 365,756 square kilometers, otherwise known as 947,303 square meters, with a population of almost sixty-five million (65,000,000) and one hundred and twenty-six (126) prison facilities, translating into almost one in each district in the country.

The official inmate capacity is twenty-nine thousand seven hundred and sixty (29,760), less than the thirty-two thousand six hundred and seventy-one (32,671) currently incarcerated, resulting in congestion. Overcrowding is a result of strict bail conditions, particularly the police bail requirement, which many accused individuals are unaware of, and apathy among the police in informing and implementing bail procedures promptly after arrests. One of the most common bail requirements, for example, is the submission of the National Identification Card (NIDA), introduced almost ten (10) years ago, yet many citizens still lack one. Additionally, prolonged court proceedings with numerous adjournments contribute to delays, resulting in prolonged detention of accused individuals, particularly in cases of armed robbery, murder, manslaughter, economic, and organized crimes. It is worth noting the annual Presidential pardons, as well as recommendations submitted by the Parole Board, which help alleviate overcrowding, although they do not fully offset the influx of new inmates.


Just as in almost all developing nations, the majority of inmates in Tanzania are illiterate, poor, and unskilled, suggesting that crime is a socio-economic phenomenon. Therefore, crime stems from a combination of poverty, economic challenges, discrimination, desperation, and helplessness.

Our prisons inherited the colonial pattern of punitive measures for offenders of the law. This established the prisons service as an independent organ within the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the sole purpose of punishing sentenced and convicted individuals, focusing on incarceration and hard labor. As observed, this creates a coercive and harsh environment.

Tanzania is party to several conventions and international instruments, both regional and international, as listed below. There are also numerous local criminal and penal laws, all under the auspices of the principal law, the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.

However, it is notable that many of these international agreements have not been fully incorporated into domestic law despite ratification. Limited funding, in terms of budgetary allocation, particularly affects the prisons' ability to meet even basic requirements. Nevertheless, efforts have been devised to improve the standards and quality of the prisons, focusing on humanistic principles in terms of both quality and quantity. The transition from conservative to liberal philosophies, with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment, is the goal. However, this transition is still in its infancy and lacks comprehensive support from factual data regarding the progress made so far.

One significant and highly notable improvement is the introduction of pit latrines to replace the use of buckets. The UN and African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Treatment of Prisoners should be reflected in domestic laws and effectively implemented. However, these agreements will remain mere words on paper if the government does not prioritize the commitments it has freely ratified.


Female Incarceration in Tanzania.

Notably, the numbers still appear low in comparison to male inmates, mostly for small felonies, property, and drug-related offenses, with very few capital ones. This trend is also observed worldwide, leading to different treatment for female inmates compared to their male counterparts. Among the reasons for this are demographic differences in the severity of the crimes committed. There is also a general notion that women are more easily rehabilitated than male inmates, simply due to their inherent nature and behavior. The types of crimes committed by female inmates are widely acknowledged to stem from underlying social inequalities, which make women more likely to commit crimes leading to their incarceration. It is widely recognized that women bear the largest burden in households, including feeding and caring for children, and in Africa, ensuring their education. It is also worth mentioning the emerging trend of mental health-related issues affecting women, which are linked to incarceration.


Poor Conditions in the Prisons:

As already mentioned, prisons in Tanzania are overcrowded, but not to the extent observed in the women's wing. Unlike in other jurisdictions, female inmates in Tanzania are kept separate from male inmates. While reports of abuse incidents are common in general, no such cases have been registered in the country's female cells. These abuses include sexual harassment, assault, rape, and others.

During quarterly official and impromptu visits, both as a judge and previously while serving as a Commissioner for Human Rights and Good Governance, there is no record of any form of abuse. The female cells are managed by qualified female superintendents with the utmost professionalism.


Children of incarcerated mothers:

Most of these are infants and toddlers who require their mothers' attention in all aspects, from breastfeeding to upbringing. The situation often involves impoverished mothers who have no one to care for their children, leaving them with no choice but to bring them along during their incarceration. Unfortunately, there are no facilities in the country to care for infants and children, not even for street children. It is evident that these children are exposed to vulnerable situations in cells, which goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Child Welfare Service principles. It is recommended that unless there are medical or psychological reasons, incarcerated mothers with infants/minors should be allowed to keep them in prison, aligning with children's rights to care and love. Such arrangements aim to foster and nurture the children's well-being.

There are also pregnant inmates, although their numbers are very low. While all of them require attention and care for their basic human rights, except for freedom of movement, female inmates and their children have special and different needs altogether. I couldn't find sufficient facts and data on whether these children receive early elementary education while in prison. It's important to consider the vulnerability of women in terms of illiteracy, poverty, and health fragility, for which budgetary allocations are necessary, primarily from the government, as it is their noble duty.

Tanzania has a model Female Prison located in the Morogoro region named Kingolwira, specifically catering to women. The prison serves as a model for female rehabilitation, ensuring that female inmates engage in various income-generating activities, primarily tailoring and horticulture. All the inmates' and sometimes prison officers' uniforms are produced there. The area is surrounded by large horticultural vegetable and fruit gardens, which also provide nutritious meals for the prison and the surrounding region.


Tanzania's per capita income is less than a dollar for the majority of its citizens. Despite being over sixty years old, the country is still struggling to improve the livelihoods of its citizens. However, there have been notable progress and scattered achievements in all spheres of the economy, social, and political sectors. As mentioned earlier, competing priorities often place the prison system at the bottom of the list, highlighting the need for others to contribute.

While there are efforts from volunteers and good Samaritans to support prisons with basic provisions such as bathing and washing soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bedding and mattresses, common medical drugs, sanitary pads, clothing, and pants, these efforts are sporadic and often insufficient.

The overwhelming issue of overcrowding needs to be addressed holistically by ensuring that the entire criminal justice system complements each other and operates efficiently and effectively. Offenders are a product of society, and their actions reflect, to a large extent, the society they belong to. The culture, traditions, and behavior of many societies also influence the nature of crime within them. Families and faith-based institutions are also part of the problem and need to fulfill their roles appropriately in addressing crime.

Once incarcerated, individuals often face stigma and rejection from society, especially from their families. This creates a dynamic of shame that discourages families from maintaining contact with offenders.



Like every other human being, female inmates need love and recognition, someone to listen to and guide them in times of need, and someone willing to understand their situations more quickly.

Female trends show adaptation and transformation more easily than male inmates. We cannot address this issue without also tackling women's issues related to trauma, mental health, conflict resolution, as well as societal perceptions and beliefs. Addressing these factors together can have far-reaching results if handled effectively.


Admittedly, very few studies have explored this area in depth, and more research needs to be conducted, which could be undertaken as a project by IAWJ. I would be more than willing to be part of that process if it moves forward, aiming to draw a balanced position between best and worst practices for the well-being of female and child victims.




·      Female In mates in Tanzania – Thesis study by Jacquiline Halima Kayemba Mgumu

·      Life After Prison – Empowerment, Self Esteem, Parental and Child Relationships by Open University of Tanzania

·      The 1977 Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania

·      Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners 1990 (Adopted and Proclaimed by General Assembly Resolution 45/11 of December 1990

·      Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment 1988 (Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of December 1988

·      Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, 1979 (Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979

·      Convention Against Torture & Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984 (Entered into Force on 26th of June 21987

·      Convention Against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984

·      International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (Entered into Force on the 23rd of March 1976 Articles 7 & 10

·      United Nations Congress on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders

·      Untied Nations Rules for the Protection of Juvenile deprived of their Liberty (Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 45/113 of December 1990

·      United Nations Standards Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ( The Beijing Rules) 1995

·      Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 Article 5