Overcoming fear to report domestic violence
Maputo (Mozambique) – Maria says that she is feeling safer these days because it is now two months since her husband last beat her and threatened her children.
During 15 years of marriage, her husband has repeatedly beaten her and even threatened to kill both her and the children. Maria shows some of the scars.
“He even hits me in front of my father. My father tries to reason with him, but it doesn’t help. He has no shame. During the night our children have had to run to the neighbours to get help. And the other day he said he would lock the children in our home and burn it down. But he didn’t.”
Would she like to live alone if she had enough money? Her eyes light up. “I would love to have my own home and live alone with my children and not be afraid,” she says. But she concedes that she does not see it as a possibility for now. She is poor. Her only source of money comes from tailoring, but she says there is not much demand in her community.
Women like Maria, and children who are suffering from abuse, violence and exploitation can report to a “Centro de Atendimento”, a specialized section of the police station. There, they will not only be able to report the crime to specially trained police officers, but they will also be referred for appropriate legal, medical and psychological support.
There are centres in all 11 provinces of the country, and more than 20,000 women and children have benefited from support. The UNICEF-supported centres also play an important role in sensitizing the communities about violence, including child trafficking. Several of the centres offer outreach programmes to ensure that communities are aware of issues related to the prevention of violence, abuse and exploitation.
Maria Supinho, the police officer based in a police station in the capital Maputo coordinates the programme in the southern region of the country. She concedes that most cases do not come to their attention.
Supinho says that more people are coming to the centres than ever before, and that the police force is recording success in bringing the offenders to book. She cites the case of Sara (not her real name), who was only 13 years old when her step father, a traditional healer, began to sexually abuse her.
“He told Sara that if she told anyone, she would die. However Sara did tell her own mother, who refused to believe her until one day she caught her husband having sex with her daughter,” explains Supinho.
The man is now in prison, waiting for his trial for rape of a child.
“Before, the judges, who are usually men, tended to protect the male offender, but these days they are more sensitized to the problem,” adds Supinho.