27 January 2014: Teaming up with Tanzania’s Police Force to Fight Gender-Based Violence and Child Abuse in Tanzania
By Sabine Brandenburg and Ophilia Karumuna
Chang’ombe Police Station, Temeke district, Dar es Salaam region, United Republic of Tanzania, 27 January 2014
The waiting room is full of women and a few men; some are accompanied by their children. The colorful wall, the green sofa and the box of toys in the corner gives the room a comfortable atmosphere. This is the Gender and Children’s Desk – a specialist unit, staffed by trained police officers, offering a secure environment in which children and adults can feel comfortable and secure to report cases of violence and abuse. These Desks are at the heart of the Tanzania Police Force’s response to gender based violence and child abuse.
“I would like to be able to protect myself”, says 3-year-old Furaha. Furaha is a victim of sexual violence. After the death of her father one year ago, her mother, Digna, took care of her four children (aged 3, 7, 16 and 22). Without any support, Digna is away from home a lot, struggling to make ends meet. One morning, seven months ago, when Digna was not at home, their 58-year-old neighbor, Babu, asked Furaha’s brother (aged 7 years) to get some biscuits and sweets from the local shop. Furaha was playing with her dolls and toy cars in the house. As soon as Furaha’s brother left the house, Babu placed Furaha on the sofa and raped her. Furaha screamed. On his way back from the local shop, Furaha’s brother heard her cries and ran into the house. When he came in, Babu fled. When Furaha’s mother was informed about the incident she immediately took Furaha to the nearest police post where trained officers supported them to go to the local hospital. Following a medical examination, the doctor confirmed that Furaha had been raped, and this was not the first occasion. The hospital advised Digna to report the case to the Chang’ombe Gender and Children’s Desk at Temeke Police station, who were able to ensure that Digna and her daughter were supported and a prosecution was pursued.
“I felt like the whole world was against me. I am a widow, the life that I live is really hard, I don’t have anything. Luckily I have received a lot of support through the Gender and Children’s Desk,” says Digna. “They listened and responded immediately.”
Improving response for victims of gender-based violence and child abuse
Nearly 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys in Tanzania experience sexual abuse and over 7 out of 10 children experience physical violence before the age of 18. However, most children never tell anyone about their experience and relatively few cases are reported to the police because of stigma, shame, family and community pressure, or the threat of family separation. There are also low levels of trust that the police and the courts can deliver justice for victims.
Consequently, few victims receive the support that they need to recover and perpetrators do not face justice, leaving them free to continue committing these crimes against children.
To encourage reporting and improve how cases are handled, with the support of UNICEF and its sister agencies (UN Women and UNFPA), the Police have established Gender and Children’s Desks in every Police Station in Tanzania. Since the establishment of Gender and Children’s Desks, the number of reported cases has increased significantly. The Desk officers’ conduct awareness raising sessions in schools, in community meetings and in bars. But, most notably, word of mouth from people who have been assisted by the Desk encourages victims and their families to come and ask for help. The Chango’mbe Desk, which was renovated and equipped with UNICEF assistance, provided support to 283 victims of gender based violence and child abuse in 2013 compared to just 71 cases in 2009.
The Tanzania Police Force is committed to further improving its response to gender-based violence and child abuse. The vision of the Police Force is to ensure that every child, woman or man that reports to a Desk is treated with dignity and sensitivity and that every case is handled effectively and efficiently. To realize this vision, a three-year Action Plan for Police Gender and Children’s Desks was officially launched on 26th November 2013.
The Tanzania Police Force cannot achieve its vision alone. It is working closely with social welfare, health and justice actors, as well as development partners, including UNICEF, and NGOs to ensure victims receive the help that they need and that children, like Furaha, receive justice and are protected from further abuse.
Furaha’s case is currently at Court. If found guilty, Babu will be imprisoned for up to thirty years.
“I would like to defend myself and to teach other children how to protect themselves. And I would like to become a police officer when I grow up”, says the 3-year old girl.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity