Malawi Law Society (MLS) and four other interested groups have volunteered to take up the case of a 14-year-old girl who was defiled while on remand at Chesepo Police Unit in Dowa District two days ago.
MLS, Women Lawyers Association of Malawi (WLA), YouthNet and Counselling (Yoneco), Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) and Eye of the Child, among others, have condemned the police over the matter.
Central Region Police Commissioner Innocent Bottomani said in an interview yesterday the minor is reported to have been arrested for allegedly using abusive language after being involved in a scuffle at school.
According to Bottomani, during the night, the girl was allegedly defiled by a fellow suspect who sneaked out of his cell and committed the crime before bolting from the police unit.
But the interested groups have questioned the police version and demanded that police officers on duty on the night should be held accountable.
In a written response yesterday, MLS president Alfred Majamanda described the development as disturbing and unfortunate.
He said: “Our position as MLS is that this is a very disturbing and unfortunate occurrence. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms. If it is true that a police officer indeed committed the crime, we urge the Inspector General to discipline the officer by letting the law take its course.”
Majamanda also extended MLS offer to take up the case, saying: “As MLS, we offer ourselves to privately prosecute the suspect on a pro bono basis.”
On her part, WLA national president Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff said Section 95 of the Child Care Protection and Justice Act prohibits the detention of any child before a finding has been made against the child.
She said: “This form of detention is only permissible where the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] has sought leave from the court to detain a child after showing that the child has been involved in a very serious offence and that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.
“In any event, where detention is necessary, the child is supposed to be detained at a safety home. The circumstances surrounding the overnight incarceration of this young girl and all other children need critical review and the police procedures when it comes to children need to be standardised and strengthened–any contact with law enforcement must be in line with the best interests of the child and the law.”
Chisala-Tempelhoff said the association was looking forward to mandate holders such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Office of the Ombudsman and the Malawi Police Service to ensure that the case is investigated.
Maxwell Matewere, executive director of Eye of the Child, described what happened in Dowa as a disgrace and unacceptable.
He said: “The matter should be thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrator is brought to book. Eye of the Child will be happy to provide the necessary support and even pay for a DNA test if need be.”
In a telephone interview, Yoneco executive director McBain Mkandawire yesterday blamed the police for risking the girl to be defiled during the night within the precincts of a purported safe zone.
Bottomani admitted that his officers erred in arresting the minor and putting her in a cooler where the unfortunate incident happened.
He said: “What I can tell you is that we have sent a team of investigators to find out the truth about the matter. But what we have established so far is that a suspect, who was in the opposite cell, managed to break his door and violated the girl. Attempts to re-arrest him were not successful, but he was later captured in Ntchisi where he is being held.”
But Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango said the claim that the girl was defiled by another suspect did not hold.
Bottoman said if the investigation implicates any police officer, they will not be spared from prosecution.
Previously, there have been similar cases in recent months where police officers have been nabbed on allegations of defiling girls.
In March this year, a police officer at Chimwamkango Police Unit in Mchinji was arrested on suspicion that he defiled a 14-year-old girl, and in September, another police constable at Chilomoni Police Station in Blantyre was arrested for defiling a 15-year-old girl while on duty during the fifth phase of the voter registration exercise.