Nurtured in Captivity

Monday 28 October 2013

When a child takes his first step, it is an unforgettable moment for the mother. But not for Shazia, whose son took his first steps in Central Jail.

Ali Abbas, now three, was only a year and a half when he was brought to Central Jail Karachi to live with his mother Shazia. He couldn't even walk properly then and was very shy.

Shazia is in jail while she is under trial on suspicion of a kidnapping-for-ransom case. She was a housewife and took care of her small family, her husband and baby son Ali Abbas in her home in New Karachi. When she came to jail, she was already six months pregnant with her daughter Alisha who is now five months old.

“He was very withdrawn and didn't speak to anybody. If a child came up and hit him he wouldn't react,” Shazia said about her son Ali. “Now he has changed a lot. He sits in class with the other children and looks forward to school. He wakes up and excitedly asks me to bathe him and get him ready.”

Before Save the Children and SEHER's intervention, the environment for children in the women barracks was not conducive. There was no activity or arrangement specifically for children, according to their needs. Additionally, the jail environment itself isn't child-friendly. Children learn and pick up all sorts of things from the women in jail. They witness fights and are exposed to abusive language. “Children learn bad habits from us [mothers], not from other children [in jail],” said Shazia.

“Now they are getting a good education and they have a routine. Because of his routine, I have one too. I have to send him to school, make food for him and feed him when he returns and then help him with his homework,” Shazia explained.

Before starting school, Ali Abbas didn't interact with anyone and was very attached to his mother. When the project started, Ali resisted going to school and cried if he was sent. The teachers and his mother let Ali take his time and slowly involved him in the classroom. Initially he just sat in class with his mother and watched the other children. Eventually he began to point and ask for toys, and gradually became more comfortable in the class without his mother being present.

When Ali Abbas fell ill, Shazia wasn't satisfied with the jail doctor because Ali's kidney infection had been mis-diagnosed. However, SEHER had arranged for a child specialist to visit every month and the organisation provides whatever medication the child requires.

There has been a huge improvement in Ali's social skills, explains Rizwana Jabeen, the psycho-social counsellor. “We tried to bring about a change in his behaviour through play therapy. First I worked with him alone using toys or art, then gradually I introduced more children to the group,” she elaborated.

“Without this program, Ali's development would have been stalled; he is a sharp child but his potential wouldn't have come through without counselling and the classroom,” she said.

“My child has been given a great foundation through this project,” Shazia said, when talking about how the project has made a difference. “If this project hadn't been introduced, I would have been worrying about having to educate Ali from scratch when I get released, but now I know that Ali won't be lagging in school.”

Shazia wants Ali and Alisha to get a good education and wants to go back to being a homemaker when she is released.