The role of community policing in child protection

Child protection in emergencies

Lulutani Tembo
Mwambo community police forum pose for a photo with UNICEF Child Protection Officer Nami Nakatani
UNICEF Malawi/2019/Steve Mbayeni
27 February 2020

Zomba district in southern Malawi is known for the majesty of the Zomba Plateau. In the rainy season lush green scenery dominates the landscape, and local people look forward to the harvest.

But in March 2019, the region’s beauty was replaced by ugliness: heavy rains and flooding from Cyclone Idai ripped through the mountains. Thousands of families were displaced into evacuation sites and women and children, especially, were left vulnerable to hunger, disease and violence.

Enter community policing. With villages cut off from formal law enforcers and public resources stretched to the limit, the job of protecting women and children during the disaster fell to local community police volunteers.

Malindima helps his community during the flooding

Owen Malindima, 32, a community police volunteer since 2017, said after the floodwaters hit the volunteers went from house-to-house to offer assistance.

“When people were moved to evacuation sites, we made sure to help separate the affected people by age and sex, to ensure the safety of children and other vulnerable people,” Malindima explains.

“I monitored two sites in our area and was there every day to help prevent incidents of violence and abuse and make sure that children were safe.”

He said safe zones – known as Children’s Corners – were established in the evacuation sites allowing children to play with other children in a secure environment, providing respite from the challenging circumstances.

Community policing helps protect women and children

Community policing was introduced by the Malawi Police Service to promote safety and security, and create lasting partnerships with the community and other stakeholders.

Under the initiative, Community Policing Forums were established, which recruited volunteers and provided them with training. Child protection was a fundamental element taught to the volunteers.

Anderson Nyakari, a policing volunteer, said his community had benefitted from the initiative and local people were now familiar with the process of reporting cases of violence and neglect against children.

“The training opened my eyes on the referral system. We became more motivated about our role and people were reminded about the importance of child protection,” says Nyakari.

Support from UNICEF with funding from the Japanese Government

Following the floods, the Japanese Government provided US$250,000 to UNICEF to assist Malawi with emergency needs. As a result, child protection services were enhanced in the six most badly affected districts – Zomba, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe, Machinga and Mulanje.

“Children are very vulnerable during emergencies. It is important to make sure their rights are protected,” says Nami Nakatani, a child protection officer with UNICEF Malawi.

“We have increased visibility of community policing, which has resulted in more cases being reported and support being provided to victims of violence, including children.”

Malindima’s journey to become a policing volunteer

At first, Malindima wasn’t enthusiastic about becoming a policing volunteer. He was already busy with his personal life and didn’t think the community would support the initiative.

But the village chief convinced him he should do it and he took on the role even though it was tough in the beginning.

“When I first started the job people objected to what I was doing and would block me on the road. I also found it frustrating that I would not always know the best way to respond to some cases.”

However, his fortunes changed after he undertook training on child protection with the support of UNICEF and Japan. It taught him how to respond to the needs of children during emergencies.

“I learned about child rights and relayed the information to our village chiefs. We told them that child labour, starving children, burning them and preventing them from going to school wasn’t acceptable.”

On top of the training provided to community police volunteers, Malindima and others also received reflector jackets for easy identification in the community.

“In the past we were easily attacked, but now that we have the jackets this is no longer the case. People respect us.”