Congress urged to pass law addressing situation of mothers in jail and their children

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Congress urged to pass law addressing situation of mothers in jail and their children

( – November 25, 2020 – 6:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — There is a need to enact proposed measures that would address the situation of incarcerated women and their children following the case of detained activist Reina Mae Nasino and her daughter, the Commission of Human Rights said Wednesday.

In a forum, CHR Commission Karen Gomez-Dumpit said there was not much discussion on the plight of women in prisons and their children prior to the death of Nasino’s three-month-old daughter River, who was born while the activist was behind bars.

Human rights groups said the case of Nasino and her daughter highlighted the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of mothers in Philippine jails.

Aside from being an often overlooked topic, there is also no existing local law that addresses in detail the situation of mothers deprived of liberty and their children and provides protection for them, Gomez-Dumpit stressed.

“Persons deprived of liberty including women in such situations and their children do not seem to figure very highly in policy priorities of the government,” the CHR official said, adding their special circumstances should prompt the speedy passage of bills that aim to protect them.

‘Mother in Jail Act’

At least two bills which seek to create programs for incarcerated mothers and children were filed at the House of Representatives. These are House Bill 117 introduced by Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo (Pampanga) and House Bill 3197 introduced by Reps. Anna Marie Villaraza-Suarez (ALONA party-list) and David Suarez (Quezon).

Among the salient provisions of the two bills include the establishment of child-friendly opportunities for mothers and children such as special visitation rooms and independent monitoring of detention facilities by the CHR and other non-government organizations.

The bills also seek to give courts duty to provide a defendant with reasonable amount of time to appropriately attend to the needs of his or her minor children for safe and appropriate care prior to accepting a guilty plea.

Both proposed measures are still pending at committee level.

“The commission supports legislation and other measures that aim to address the situation of incarcerated women and children,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

The human rights body is also recommending the provision of nursing room for breastfeeding mothers and child-friendly spaces for visiting children, pediatric services, learning opportunities for infants and children, and post natal care, counseling and psychosocial services for incarcerated mothers.

CHR also stressed the need for access to clean water and hygiene facilities and a reunification plan for mothers and their children as well as reintegration programs.

Cruel justice system

“Reina Mae’s plight demonstrates the cruelty of the justice system to poor women, especially women political prisoners,” Josalee Deinla, one of Nasino’s lawyers, said.

Nasino was arrested during a raid at the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Manila in 2019. She was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, an accusation she and her legal counsels claim are made up.

She gave birth to River while in jail. She asked the lower court to allow her to be with her daughter so she could breastfeed her at least until the baby turned one.

River died on the evening of October 9 while Nasino and her lawyers were pleading with the court for her temporary release.

Nasino attended the burial of her daughter in handcuffs and surrounded by dozens of jail and police officers. She was also given only three hours to see her baby inside a funeral parlor on October 14 for the first time since they were separated in August.

“The government neglected Reina Mae inside jail as Baby River was growing inside her womb deprived Baby River of her mother’s breastmilk and maltreated Reina May and her family as they buried Baby River,” Deinla said. — Gaea Katreena Cabico