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Rights of Pregnant Women in Prison

Updated: Jan 15

Safoora Zargar’s case has made it all over the news headlines. It was highlighted when the Delhi High  Court denied bail to a pregnant woman, Safoora Zargar, charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – an anti-terror law for conspiracy of riots in a matter of CAA. According to the Prison Statistics India 2016, there are around  1,649 women prisoners with children across India. Out of which 1,942, women prisoners either gave birth inside the jail or had an infant, while 1,192 woman prisoners were undertrial inmates. The lawmakers have passed many acts relating to the conduct and welfare of prisoners in jail and one of them is the  Model Prison Manual, wherein detailed provisions for the welfare of a pregnant woman are given.

Pregnancy being such a sensitive state, prisons have all the requisite facilities for their special needs:

For Food and diet- Pregnant and nursing women need about 3100 calories every day. They need more protein and minerals intake which can be obtained by more milk, fish, meat, and eggs, and shall be provided a special diet by the lady Medical Officer, who may also prescribe an extra diet, for a specific period of time. 

For Medical care- All the woman prisoners are to be examined by a lady Medical Officer, and if someone is suspected to be pregnant,  they will be sent to the District Hospital for further examination.

Proper pre-natal and post-natal care shall be provided as per the advice of qualified medical officers. Timely access to obstetricians, gynaecologists are provided if required.  24-hours access to advice from a medical officer if the woman needs to go to the hospital. Sadly, in reality, the above facility has not been seen in any prison. Women prisoners have access to urine pregnancy test kits within the prison which is free of cost. And is also provided information and access to abortion during incarceration. They are also given the option to take up work during their pregnancies and in the post-natal phase if they so choose.

Appeal to the Court-If it is found that a woman who is pregnant is given a death sentence,  the notice of the same should be sent to the Inspector General of Prisons who shall seek for postponing the order to the Government till the birth of the child.

 Welfare and accommodations-Pregnant prisoners are to be kept with other inmates unless the lady Medical Officer asks otherwise as a special condition. 

It is upsetting to know that even though there’s a provision in the Jail Manual that all women must be kept in the women cell only, sadly, only 17% of them were placed in female-only prisons.

In my opinion, many pregnant prisoners will need to be educated about pregnancy and require counselling throughout. Such provisions are often unavailable or are inadequate, and appropriate steps should be taken expeditiously. 

Child Birth in Prison-Arrangements is made for the delivery of the child outside of the prison unless there’s a high-security risk by giving such a facility.

The registration and government benefit program will be the same as if she was not in prison.

Children up to the age of 6 shall be kept in prison with their mother if no arrangement is made for the guardian. 

Children kept under the protective custody of the Social welfare department are allowed to meet their mother once a week.

Postnatal Care and Breastfeeding-Both the newborn child and the mother require immunization and regular health checks to ensure recovery healthily Ironically,  women in prison often are discouraged from breastfeeding, as it is perceived as interfering with the prison routine.

The UN also talks about the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of pregnant prisoners regarding special accommodation for all necessary prenatal and postnatal care and treatment. An arrangement shall be made wherever practicable for children to be born in a hospital outside the institution. If a child is born in prison, the “police station” shall not be mentioned, instead, the name of the area of the Police Station shall be written in the birth certificate and where nursing infants are allowed to remain in the institution with their mothers, the provision shall be made for a nursery staffed by qualified persons, where the infants shall be placed when they are not in the care of their mothers.

In my opinion, the lack of female staff in women prisons often leads to male staff becoming responsible for female inmates. This is highly undesirable since women inmates need gender-specific services that should be provided by female staff. Another neglected area of health care is Pregnancy and reproductive health needs. Lack of prenatal and postnatal care, inadequate education regarding childbirth, and parenting is a very common issue that is faced by the majority of them and hence there is a need to strive more in this section.


Priyanshi Maloo is a student at KES Shri Jayantilal H Patel Law College.

They can be contacted at princeymaloo98@gmail.com


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