Every child deserves a happy and healthy environment in which to start their journey in this world; but for some children, their adventure starts off behind bars because of the crimes committed by their mothers.
A forgotten group of whom many don’t speak are those children born in jail, says Romy Titus, a TV and radio journalist and producer. She began her mission to help these children in 2000, when she learned that there were a high number of women sentenced for crimes while they were pregnant. These women give birth while in jail.
Titus is the founder and director of Babies Behind Bars (BBB), a non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg, which she started seven years later, in 2007. “We’re Babies Behind Bars and our mission is to care for children who are born in prisons to incarcerated mothers. The age focus is birth to two, as a child by law may only be with their mothers in prisons up to this age and no older – so to extend the age would be pointless as there are no children older than two in prisons.”
Babies Behind Bars believes that no baby should start life in a cage. “Our initiative is to ensure that each prison born baby everywhere in South Africa and Africa has the building blocks to be happy and healthy. We hope to touch the lives of every child subjected to life in prison on the African continent,” she explains.
“Unlocking hope” is the BBB motto and its helping hands assure the babies’ well-being from month to month during the two years they spend in jail with their mothers. “The children need to live a ‘normal’ life even though they find themselves in the worst of circumstances. It would be great if every prison had a play space outdoors dedicated to outside play time, well equipped crèches, a toy library and educational toys to ensure that early childhood development is on track.”
The charity goes to prisons throughout South Africa and beyond its borders in countries such as Namibia and Swaziland, giving hope to the mothers who are jailed while they are pregnant and making sure that the babies receive warm clothing, nappies, blankets, bottles, toiletries, proper nutrition and toys.
“Making a difference would be our biggest achievement,” Titus says. “Every second month we’re able to donate much-needed goods to all the prisons we’re affiliated to and to reach this goal with no financial backing is an achievement in itself. Day to day, month to month, year to year … At the moment we’re averaging about 800 in South Africa and about 20 in Swaziland from our latest in-house statistics.”
MONTHLY THEMED DRIVES
BBB has drop off and packing days, on which people can drop off anything that they may want to donate, and days when volunteers pack all the things the group has received, before heading straight to the prisons. “We have monthly themed drives, packing and drop off days which we’re always busy with. Our website houses all initiatives that we’re involved in. Our biggest projects of the year are Mandela Day, Corrections Week and International Day of the Child. We’re currently piecing together our big October event in conjunction with the Department of Correctional Services.”
Working closely with shelters and homes such as Ratanang Home for Children with Multiple Disabilities, Rifilwe Project and Jan Nicholson Home and Hospital School, Babies Behind Bars brings a new meaning to helping those in need.
But Titus points out: “Our focus is to assist children while they are with their mothers only. This is our purpose and mission. Children exceeding two years have to either leave to stay with a family member who is able to care for the child or they’re placed in homes which the departments of Correctional Services and Child Welfare handle.”
The organisation is in need of storage facilities, office space, disposable nappies, educational toys, baby toiletries, courier facilities in South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland, baby and toddler toys, food and formula. “We operate in every prison in the country that houses mothers and children. We’ve not been fortunate enough to physically visit each and every one of them due to financial constraints but we have visited Upington, Pollsmoor, Johannesburg, Durban, Kroonstad and Oudtshoorn,” Titus explains.
BBB needs a helping hand on its next packing day, on Saturday, 31 August, from 10am to 2pm. It is collecting summer clothing and baby goodies.
“Nappies, food, formula, toiletries and educational toys will be welcome as we gear towards fulfilling every child’s Christmas wish,” she says. The next drop off day is in Johannesburg on Saturday, 28 September, between 10am and 11am. Drop off and packing days will be held until 23 November. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.