The building that houses the six female inmates of Malakal Federal Prison sits directly behind the structure occupied by male prisoners.
A $1.4 million renovation financed by the Multi-Donor Fund and carried out by the UN Development Programme in 2010 has given the building for women prisoners a surprisingly clean appearance. The agency also donated bunk beds and mattresses for use by the inmates.
Another donation of food and non-food items valued at $500 was recently made to the female prison section with funds raised by The Alternate School of Greenfield Park in Canada at the instigation of its alumnus, Capt. Michael Marchand, who serves as an UNMIS military observer in the UNMIS Malakal sector.
But the spruced-up facility remains a place of involuntary detention for its inhabitants, who range in ages from 21 to 45 and are serving time mostly for theft and murder.
One of the convicted murderers is Nyabang Ukech, a 35-year-old mother of six who stabbed her second husband to death in June 2008, according to prison director Lt. Romano Deng Jok.
Her sentence is scheduled to end in March of next year. But Ms. Ukech could see her time behind bars extended if she fails to compensate her husband’s family for his death.
That compensation has been set at 20 cows or cash in the amount of 30,000 Sudanese pounds.
Ms. Ukech is required to come up with this so-called “blood money” payment under Sudan’s dual judicial system of traditional and official laws unless her former in-laws release her from this obligation.
“This ‘blood money’ is based on Sharia Law and mostly practiced in Islamic states,” said UNMIS Human Rights Officer Alfred Zulu. “She should be released from ‘blood money’ because she (will have) served her sentence in prison (by March 2012).”
Ms. Ukech said her relatives have shunned her since her incarceration. “They think I’m crazy,” she said.
But prison director Jok said that it is Ms. Ukech who has refused to receive her family members when they have tried to see her, adding that she sometimes engages in “abnormal behavior”.
The inmate has never undergone any psychiatric treatment during her incarceration because there is no psychiatric hospital in Upper Nile State and the government lacks the necessary funds to send her to Khartoum or Juba for that kind of attention.
Mr. Zulu said that Ms. Ukech should have undergone an evaluation for signs of mental illness before being put on trial for murder in the first place.
While Ms. Ukech could be looking at an indefinite stay in detention that would violate international law in Mr. Zulu’s judgment, the plight of a female inmate at Bor Central Prison seems even more iniquitous.
Athieng Ayuen Yen married a soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1996 and bore him four children over the ensuing 13 years. At the time they were married, Ms. Yen’s relatives sought a dowry of 50 cows from her husband, as required by the traditional customs of Dinka culture, but the soldier delivered only 17 animals.
Her family’s longstanding sense of grievance over the dowry issue came to a head after Ms. Yen became pregnant in 2009.
Her relatives told her about a wealthy businessman who wanted to marry Ms. Yen and would pay them an ample dowry. Ms. Yen’s family ordered her to leave her husband, who had since married other women and increased his income as an SPLA officer without ever settling the bride-wealth debt.
Ms. Yen rejected the ultimatum, insisting that any decision to leave her spouse was hers alone to make.
Her relatives then obtained a court ruling that threatened Ms. Yen with the loss of her newborn son unless her husband finally came up with the 33 cows demanded by her family.
She rejected the ruling and was sent to prison, where she has spent the last 16 months raising her fourth child.
“My family and the new man they wanted put me in prison because I refused to be (his) wife,” said the 29-year-old inmate. “The child will be given to the new man if the father of my children fails to show up.”
On that score, Ms. Yen has little grounds for optimism. Her polygamous husband has yet to visit her or their son since they moved into the prison in 2009.
Written by Imelda Tjahja & Francis Shuei Diu