Sometimes a parent is arrested in the presence of the children. The parent is taken away in such a violent way that traumatises the children. Hope Mafaranga writes about the new home in Nakaseke district that has been set up for these children to give them up
Seeing their father or mother bundled up and thrown under seats and stepped on by the 999 pick-up Police and whisked away can be very traumatic for children. The children never get to know why their parents were arrested and it is something they never expected.
Francis Ssuubi has dedicated his life to protecting children of prisoners and giving them hope.
Ssuubi was inspired to protect children of prisoners after he was arrested and taken to Luzira after a misunderstanding with one of his partners.
Upon being released, Ssuubi started Wells of Hope Ministries, a Christian based non-government organisation in 2008 to educate and give a home to the children whose parents are serving long term sentences.
He said he was heartbroken by women imprisoned with their babies or when they are pregnant.
"They give birth in prison and when the child is 18 months it is handed/given to the relatives of the prisoner. You can imagine such a separation from the imprisoned mom to people in the community who the child has not grown up with.
This is traumatic and harmful to the children and interferes with their ability to successfully master developmental tasks," he says.
Ssuubi highlights stigma, poor academic achievement and school absence, early pregnancy, substance abuse, child labour, exploitation, child trafficking and crime among others as the challenges faced by children of prisoners.
"From our experience and research from several countries, it's been proven that parental criminality is a strong predictor of children's own criminal behaviour, which suggests that children of prisoners are likely to become tomorrow's criminals.
Growth at the academy:
Ssuubi is now constructing Wells of Hope Academy, at Hope village, Kyanjinja, Semuto in Nakaseke district.
They draw children from all over the country. The academy takes care of 150 children.
"The school is a project of Wells of Hope Ministries. In future, we hope to set up a secondary and vocational centre, where the children can acquire artisan skills so that they can create their own jobs," he says.
Asked how he gets to know the children of prisoners, Ssuubi says he visits prisoners and they share with him how they were arrested, the charges they are facing, the sentence they are serving and their family background.
Ssuubi arranges with prison authorities to have the children meet their imprisoned parents once a month.
Ssuubi is on a journey to trace the homes of the prisoners.
"With 50% of Uganda's population being children, we have an uphill task to make the future bright for this nation," he says.
He visited 33 families with 55 children with a parent in prison. About 21 families had a parent who was in prison for murder.
"In Mbarara, I met with a mother of two girls who for the last seven years thought her husband had simply got lost. She cried when she learnt that the husband is in prison on death row. I counselled her and it was a blessing for me to offer support.
"In Isingiro, I met three children who thought their father was dead. The whole village celebrated when they learnt that the father of these kids is alive. One man said their hearts were out of their position, my visit has put their hearts back in the right place.
Though it is tiring to trace the children of prisoners, Ssuubi calls it a blessing to move through hard to reach terrain areas, mountainous and hilly, rough roads, dusty roads, looking for families and giving hope, love and protection.
Peninah Mirembe a 12-year-old, says she was always sad knowing that she has no father and felt bad whenever her friends would talk about their parents.
"My friends would talk about their parents and I would wonder if I really had a father and a mother in life. One day a group of people came from Wells of Hope and told me that they had seen my father in prison but I did not believe it," she says.
"In the middle of the term I was taken to see my father and they also told me that they had got a school for me, as if it was a dream for me I could not believe what my eyes had seen.
I was extremely happy and I could not control the tears," she adds. Ssuubi appeals to the society to be kind to children of prisoners and help to shape their future. "Together we can turn the tide of a child of prisoner," Suubi concludes.