By Holly Robertson
Phnom Penh, Cambodia - For the first 18 months of his life, the only home Sopheary's son knew was a cramped prison cell. "The kids would try to shake the window and the door to get out but they couldn't, so they would cry," said Sopheary, whose name has been changed to protect her family's privacy. "It was very chaotic."
Three months pregnant when she was swept up in a drug raid on a karaoke parlour in July 2015, Sopheary denied knowledge of the methamphetamine found on her client but was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, reduced to two on appeal. It was inevitable the baby she was carrying would be born during her sentence. And, with her relatives unable to care for him, his first - and developmentally crucial - months were spent in an adult prison that has become increasingly crowded because of a major government crackdown on drugs. When he was born, "he was so small, like a monkey", Sopheary told Al Jazeera. She blamed his low birth weight on receiving inadequate nutrition from her food rations during her pregnancy. And, like other mothers interviewed for this story, she said she was unable to breastfeed so relied on formula provided by a non-governmental organisation.
Prison budgets allocate just $0.70 per prisoner per day for food (which covers two basic, rice-based meals), and half that for accompanying infants, though local NGOs working closely with prisoners claim the children rarely receive their allowance and pregnant women do not receive any prison-issue nutritional supplements. "We have received reports of mothers returning to the prisons with newborn babies to sleep on cell floors with no assistance with extra food portions, breastfeeding, sanitation and after-birth care," said Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho).
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