Awa, a young 30 years old woman, sits in the courtyard of the detention and correction house of Kaolack, a city located 200 km south of Dakar, Senegal. She holds her three months old baby in her arms. Awa was convicted of infanticide in 2014, a crime she was charged with more than 10 years ago. Remanded on bail during that period, Awa started a new life. in prison, she has had to leave her husband and their three and five years old children behind.
“Awa’s story is typical story of women who find themselves in prison, sometimes with young children, leaving behind a family,” says Fatou Kine Camara, President of the Women’s Lawyers Association (AJS). “Beyond concerns about due process for Awa, she is one of many women in Senegal affected by criminal laws, which have a distinctly discriminatory dimension”.”
This case is one of the 153 collected by the AJS, with the support of the Regional Office for West Africa of the UN Human Rights Office during joint visits to the five prisons in Senegal that hold the majority of female detainees. A report resulting from these visits provides a better understanding of the detention conditions of these women. Legal and medical consultations as well as free social assistance were also offered to inmates.
“The report analyzes the causes of detention of women and emphasizes the discriminatory nature of certain offenses,” says the Regional Representative for West Africa UN Human Rights Office, Andrea Ori. If drug trafficking is the primary offence for which women are incarcerated (31%), it is followed by infanticide (16 %), “a crime that exclusively targets women because it is in direct correlation with the criminalization of abortion,” adds Andrea Ori. Failure to hold a mandatory health records is another offense which has the impact of exclusively criminalizing women in prostitution.
The situation of women prisoners in Senegal is an unknown reality. “The detention of women is rather marginal as it is estimated that they make up less than 4% of the total prison population in Senegal,” says Camara. “However, the comparatively few female detainees should not overshadow the specific problems that women face in an environment in principle designed for men.”
Few measures address specific situations, such as those of pregnant prisoners, nursing mothers and mothers in detention with their children, notes the report. This includes lack of spaces equipped for mothers or appropriate diets for young children. The report also stresses deficiencies in the health, medical and food system. Further, the architecture of the premises, the visits management and contacts with the outside world, the training and employment opportunities do not sufficiently take into account the needs of women prisoners.
Lack of education is also a barrier for women accused of crimes in accessing justice, which makes them vulnerable to imprisonment. . Almost half of the women with little or no education, for example, do not have a lawyer to follow their case. In addition, 72% of women prisoners are in pre-trial detention, the majority of whom for a long term.
“The issue of access to justice is fundamental, including for defendants. There can be no discrimination in the justice system. Everyone has the right to be tried within a reasonable period of time,” stresses Ori.
The visits also revealed that those awaiting trial and those already convicted share the same cells and are subjected to the same rules, in contradiction with Senegal’s international human rights obligations.
The report recommends greater humanization of custodial institutions, particularly to adopt specific measures for women and children; give priority to non-custodial and alternative measures to women incarceration; and review offenses that disproportionally affect women, specifically decriminalizing abortion and to remove the list of crimes related to prostitution that exclusively target women (failure to hold mandatory health records, soliciting). The report also recommends reducing the time of pre-trial detention within the framework of current legislative reforms, as well as strengthening educational measures that could prevent female delinquency.
The report, shared with national authorities, was officially launched on the 8th of March 2015, International Women’s Day, at the women's prison of Liberté VI in Dakar in presence of the Minister of Justice Mr. Sidiki Kaba. Having taken note of the report, the Minister committed to follow up on the report’s recommendations
As for Awa, deeming that the reasonable time limit for trial has been surpassed and taking into account her family situation, AJS introduced a pardon request through to the President of the Republic. That request was granted. Today, Awa finally left Kaolack prison and was reunited with her family.
13 March 2015