PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) wants pregnant and breastfeeding prisoners to be given the same level of healthcare provided to women outside prison.
In its 2017 nationwide survey and report on the right to health in prison, the commission revealed that prisoners who are expecting as well as those have delivered do not receive necessary prenatal and postpartum care and treatment.
Suhakam also found that prisons are not medically equipped to safely provide birth services. Instead, they usually transport pregnant women to the nearest general hospital.
“Pregnant prisoners should (also) have access to female medical practitioners if requested,” it said.
The commission commended the staff in certain prisons for their efforts in providing infant milk powder and supplying other baby products.
However, it noted that in the majority of cases, mothers faced nutritional challenges in jail which made it difficult to breastfeed.
“Similar to pregnant women, breastfeeding women have specific health and nutrition needs that are unmet in prison. The commission therefore recommends that appropriate food (quantity and quality) be provided to breastfeeding mothers.”
The report also highlighted concerns on the issue of young children remaining with their mothers in prison instead of being placed with family members or in foster care after birth.
According to the United Nations’ rules on the treatment of women prisoners, it is in the best interests of children to be allowed to stay with their mothers in prison.
“In Malaysia, the Prisons Regulations 2000 (Regulation 13) provides that a child under the age of three years may be admitted with his or her mother, and the child may be provided with basic necessities for the child’s maintenance and care by the director general,” it said.
However, when a child reaches the age of three years, the medical officer must report if it is desirable or necessary for the child to be retained, except by special authority of the director general. At the age of four, the child can no longer be raised in prison.
Suhakam said although the regulations provide for children to be placed with their mothers in prison, there are no nursery programmes available at such facilities.
“To its credit, the Kajang Women’s Prison created a nursery, on its own initiative and funding, allowing selected prisoners with babies to attend nursery programmes,” it said.
“The commission strongly recommends that a federal policy on how to deal with children born to mothers in jail, particularly in terms of their education, well-being and safety, be put in place.”