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Saturday, September 22, 2012

5-month old baby is dying from malnutrition in prison, but can we help?

If you read my blog of August 25th blog you may remember that I spoke of a 30-year old woman who has eight children and was going to prison for three years for multiple counts of stealing baby formula, diapers and lotion. Her husband is in prison for ten years for the same crime.  Yes, just pause there for a minute and think about that.

We met her in the hospital as she was trying to nurse her 4-month old baby back to health from a severe case of malnutrition before being taken to prison. Children under the age of three go to prison with the mom if there is no father available to care for them.  She asked us numerous times to please take her baby because she thought the baby would die in prison.  The day she was released from the hospital she had the Social Worker from the hospital call us to come get the baby, but we couldn’t, there are laws in place systems that must be followed.

Today Helen, Thabile and I went to visit her in prison to see how she and the baby were doing.  As it turns out, they were only in prison for four days before they were sent to the Government hospital to try to save the babies life, again from malnutrition. They spent the next three weeks at that hospital.   They returned to prison yesterday, and we showed up today for a visit.

We arrived at the prison and had to sign in with our official ID’s.  Then a guard led us through an armored, locked door and we were asked to turn over our cell phones, wedding rings, earrings, car keys and our official ID documents.  No, we weren’t going to stay in prison, just visit there. 

We sat on a concrete bench on one side of a gated window and she sat on the other.  The first thing she asked us was why we had abandoned her and didn’t come to take her baby when she needed us to?  I carefully explained (and Thabile translated in to siSwati) that we must abide by the laws of the land and that the Social Welfare Department must be involved and be the ones to request the placemen of the baby. 

It seemed cut and dry until we saw the condition of the baby. He is now five months old and only weights 4 KG (8.8 pounds).  The mother is HIV positive and refuses to start ARV (anti-retroviral treatment). The baby is also HIV positive and we don’t know if he is on treatment or not, but he looks very sickly and has some telltale signs on his face and neck.  Helen looked at me and I thought she was going to break down. I firmly (in love) told her to keep it together or I would lose it too and the whole thing would fall apart.

During the next part of the conversation we learned that this young mother had no information about what had happened or what was happening to her seven other children since she had been incarcerated.  She had no idea about their situation, no idea how to find out and no energy to change it.  She started to cry.

At that moment I asked the Guard, who was sitting beside her listening to the conversation, for help.  We need to “call a friend” and the only person who might possibly help us was that Guard.  And help us she did.  After explaining the situation she told us that the baby’s health was in an “emergency” state.  She suggested that we meet with the Head of the prison (the Commandant) and we did.  I was so incredibly impressed with the woman we met with.

In addition to her wanting to help, she also committed to personally go and get the 18-month old and bring her to the prison to be with her mom.  WHAT!?  (you might ask?).  But yes, right now we believe the 18- month old is being cared for completely by her siblings who are age 3,4,6,9 and 11 (the 15-year old lives elsewhere).  Collectively, we believe that the 18-month old would be better off in prison with her mom.  I know, hard to read… and process. And, what about the other kids?

What will happen? We don’t know.  Should the baby stay with his mother?  Yes, in an ideal world she should, BUT the mother will be in prison for three years, is HIV positive (and without treatment, may not make it that long), and is dying in front of us.

The story doesn’t end here, it will continue to Part 2 next week when we may or may not have the opportunity to try to save this little baby’s life at the El Roi Home for Abandoned Babies.  But it is Saturday morning in Swaziland and I wanted to give you an update from the week, even though it is not complete.  I have no photos for this week because I believe that would be inappropriate and insensitive.  Every week I struggle with how to tell a story in a way that you, the reader, will respond to, while still helping protect the dignity and honor of those I am here to serve.  I am sure that I sometimes do it better than others. 

It is 6:15 AM Saturday morning and I am heading in to town,, at the invitation the Child Protection Services, to speak at a big rally at a city police station. There is a rising incidence of abortion, attempted abortion and dumping babies (it is an industrial center) so they want me to share and encourage people to make different choices. I plan to share that my mother was 15-years old when she got pregnant, and if she had aborted or dumped me, I wouldn’t be here today.  Please pray that I will have the right words to say and for Jesus to be present. I am so happy that my dear friend Lori Marschall will be along for moral support.  Another day in Swaziland, and I give thanks.

It’s Saturday morning… and I am out the door!



  1. Janine, keep up the faith and the work the Lord has called you to do. I am praying for the words you will speak this morning to this crowd. Words of joy and hope, salvation and peace. May this only be the beginning of God's work in these lives.

    I pray for this baby in prison with his mom. May God's hand be at work to get him the help he needs. I know that not every child will be given life. May God's strength and peace be with you as you have to deal with life and death.

    1. As I read your blog this morning, I kept saying, "Oh my God!" over and over...God be with you, Janine Maxwell!!! Your words are making a difference...