Police stands up for women and child victims of violence in Support Centres
Maputo, 03 December 2007- When police officers Maria Luisa and Amélia Magaia arrive at Maputo’s Mercado do Povo (People’s Market), women vendors have already begun to gather under the largest tree inside the market to protect themselves against the mid-afternoon sun. Today, the two police officers have come to talk about violence and the services available for women and child victims.
Despite the intense heat, women stop selling their vegetables, listening to the two police officers attentively. Over the sounds of the bustling market, the police officers start to tell them about the Victim Support Centres in the Police, where women can get help and denounce cases of violence to the authorities.
These centres were established in the Police to ensure that women and child victims of violence, abuse and exploitation have access to specialised services based on their needs, such as medical care, family tracing, and so on.
“In the Support Centre, we listen to the victim of violence; we try to identify the abuser and take necessary actions to solve the case. If necessary, we refer the victim to the relevant health, welfare or legal services where the victims are assisted free of charge,” explains Ms. Luisa, a police officer who specialises in cases of domestic violence.
As soon as the police officers finish the briefing, one of the women in the crowd stands and voices her renewed hope.
“Yes, we have problems, and we would like to get them solved,” says Ms Assiça Suleimana. “Please tell us where these Centres are because we want to go there.”
Celeste Rafael, who chaired the vendors committee of the People’s Market until last year, also takes the opportunity to share her views with the officer, Maria Luisa.
“Many women in this market are raising their children without any support from their partners. They didn’t know where to go for assistance. I’ll visit the Support Centre to learn more about it because I’m also a counsellor for women in this market and I would like to encourage them to go to the Centres to receive necessary services” says Celeste Rafael.
The first support centres were set up in 2002 in Maputo City and in Beira. With support from UNICEF and other partners, to date 184 such centres have been set up in police stations, and in several hospitals, in all provinces in Mozambique.
As the services offered in some of the centres were not adequate yet to respond to the real needs of victims of violence, UNICEF has been supporting the establishment of “model Centres” in the Police. Six “model Centres” will be operational by early next year in Chimoio, Mossurize, Buzi, Quelimane, Maganja da Costa and in Maputo province.
The model Centres are equipped with trained police staff and facilities to ensure that women and child victims can receive comprehensive support from investigation, legal proceedings to reintegration into communities. They also carry out outreach activities to ensure that communities are aware of prevention of violence against children and women and services available in the Centres.
“With these Centres, we are seeking to guarantee greater privacy for those who visit the Centres. Specialists who are trained to work with children and women are available there. We also want to provide a communication room, with a “helpline”, which will be free of charge, in each provincial capital,” explains Ms. Lurdes Mabunda, who heads the Department of Assistance for Women and Children of the National Police.
Also with the support of UNICEF and other partners, about 125 police officers working in the Centres have been trained this year in preventing and responding to violence against children. Subjects related to children’s rights and protection are being included in the Police Training Institutions and its training manuals. A Code of Conduct for police officers working in the area of violence and abuse of children is also being developed.
However, community involvement is fundamental to prevent violence against women and children. In addition to the services provided in the Centres, the police officers involved in public awareness raising activities, such as the event at the “People’s Market”.
“We go to the places where people are. We also involve community leaders to talk about violence, to explain what it is, and how to react to situations of violence. We pay special attention to raising awareness,” says Mabunda.
Between January and October 2007, more than 9,600 cases of violence were reported to the Centres throughout the country – concerning about 2,800 children and 5,600 women. Though the number of reported cases is on the increase compared with previous years, specialists widely concur that this is only a small fraction of the actual number of cases of women and children who have suffered abuse in the past year.
But as the centres are established and functioning, the number of cases reported should increase. This is an important first phase of awareness raising, and as noted by Ms. Mabunda, they expect an increasing number of people will be encouraged to report cases of violence against children and women to the police, and to seek assistance at the Centres.