A childhood behind bars, The Namibian

Date: January 1, 1970
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A profile of a two-year old boy who lives in prison with his mother who is serving a one year prison sentence.
A profile of a two-year old boy who lives in prison with his mother who is serving a one year prison sentence.

This article may be used:
  • Explore sources of news and how perspective impacts on the depth of coverage.
  • Analyse the representation of women and gender in the media

Trainer’s Notes


The main source in this story is the mother who gives the account of her child’s life behind bars. Through her voice, she is portrayed as a concerned mother who wants the best for her child and who regrets that her child has to be in prison with her. But she also is depicted as a young, single, irresponsible mother who landed in jail, because of a ‘drinking spree’ which led to her assaulting another woman.

The mother’s account of her son’s life in prison is almost ‘rosy’, and she appears naïve in asking for amenities like ‘a playroom with toys’. She is not portrayed as a victim, but as a woman who has landed where she is because of her own choices. The story focuses on 23- year-old Mariana Haoses not as an inmate, but on her traditional gender role as a mother.

The other voice in the story is a social worker who explains why children of a certain age or in prison. The social worker also works within the female section of the prison, so the story does not provide independent views from child and social welfare organisations, children’s rights groups, etc on the impact this situation has on young children.

Depth of coverage

While this story is about a two-year old boy in prison with his mother, the larger story is the issue of children of a certain age having to be in prison and confined to the same rules and life as inmates.

There are many unanswered questions and missing information in this story. The reader only has the example of one case of a child in prison, but this can not be generalised as the scenario for all. The story therefore required interviews with more women who have had their children in prison with them, as well as their families.

The story also only presents one view—that it is always better for a child to be with his or her mother, even if the mother is in prison (note the statement by the social worker that the best and safest place for a child to be is with the mother..). There is no contrary view to this belief offered in the story.

The last paragraph of the story which contains data on how many children have been in prison with their mothers over a seven year period, indicates that more have been girls (52) than boys (35). It would be interesting to know why this is the case. What happens to boys when their mothers go to prison? Are they kept by fathers or other relatives? Why is this not the case with girls?

Gender and women’s issues

This case study from Namibia clearly reflects that matters concerning children are exclusively the concern of the mother(her voice is dominant in the story) or of other women(noticed that the only other source in the story is that of a female social worker who believes that children are a mother’s concern).

Gender does not equal women, but the media frequently interchanges the two terms. Many newspapers and broadcast entities have initiated gender programmes or pages, which clearly only focus on issues that stereotypically are seen as concerns of women: fashion, beauty, health, how to catch a man, children, cookery, etc.

Gender is a tool of analysis which helps us understand women’s roles in relation to men; the power relations between women and men; the inequalities between women and men; and how issues and policies impact differently on women and men because of their different gender roles and access to power and resources in society.

The media has a key role to play in helping society to understand the gender dynamics that have an impact on the everyday lives of women and men across race, class, ethnicity, religion, etc.

Training exercises

Exercise one: Read the case study and discuss the following:

  1. Whose voice is dominant in the story?

  2. How many sources are in the story?

  3. Whose perspective is missing?

  4. What voices and perspectives would have made the story more balanced?

  5. Is Haoses portrayed as a victim, survivor, or in some other way?

  6. Does she come across in the story as a good or bad mother? Explain your answer using examples in the story.

Exercise two: Depth of coverage

  1. How could the angle be broadened? What information is needed?

  2. What sources are needed to provide a balance and diverse insight into the subject?

  3. What questions are raised by the data more girls (52) than boys (35) have spent their first years in prison for the past seven years?

  4. How is life in prison for a child portrayed in the story?




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