A case involving a 14-year-old student who says she was sexually assaulted in police custody on Friday adjourned to next week after police prosecutors say state witnesses were not available.
The 14-year-girl in Dowa, who was remanded at Chesepo police unit over a fight at school, is accusing a police officer at the unit of sexually abused her while she was in custody.
But the police, however, claim the girl was allegedly defiled by a suspect who was in another police cell who allegedly sneaked out of his cell and committed the crime before bolting from the police unit.
The police brought to Dowa magistrate’s court 22-year-old Mphatso Chavula whom they alleged defiled the girl.
However, magistrate Yohane Nkhata adjourned the case to next week after the girl and her mother failed to turn up.
Police prosecutor Patrick Chafuta said the prosecution would ensure that all the state witnesses next week.
The mother to the girl said they could not go to the court because the police told them to pass by the police unit before going to the court, saying this was suspicious as just a day before, the police officers confronted her for reaching out to women groups to help them with the case.
Health officials at Dowa District Hospital confirmed the rape, saying the girl has since been treated for possible sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
The girl said at night, whilst in the cell alone, a man who covered his face with a cloth, opened the cell with a key and defiled her.
She said she was alone in the cell.
Group head Mphangala from chief Kayembe expressed shock at the revelation and has since asked all the police officers to be transferred.
He said it was illegal for the police to put in custody the minor on the trivia charges before consulting the traditional leaders.
“It is the community which built the police unit building and we did not build it for the police to be raping our children whilst in custody,” said the group head.
Malawi Law Society, Women Lawyers Association, Center for Human Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) YouthNet and Counselling (Yoneco) and Eye of the Child, among others, have since said it will take up the matter to help the girl and her family get justice on the matter.
Women Lawyers president Serai Chisale said the association is disturbed that girls’ rights continue to be violated in the country, saying the alleged rape in police custody and the arrest of the minor and remanded in police cell over night for a minor offence is an example.
“Putting her in police custody over night for a lesser offence is uncalled for,” she said.
Girls Empowerment Movement and another women rights body have also vowed to take up the matter to ensure that the culprit is punished.
CHREAA -which supports vulnerable groups to access justice – wants the matter to get to its logical conclusion.
“The girl indicated that the person who defiled her and the person who shouted that a suspect was running from a cell had the same voice. She indicated that her assailant opened the cell with keys and covered himself with a chitenje in the face.
“The question is; where can a suspect have access to keys of his own cell and that of the girl as well as a chitenje? Are suspects now responsible for police cells? Do they share keys with police officers?” said CHREAA’s Deputy Executive Director and Litigation Manager, Chikondi Chijozi.
“She says she shouted for help for about 30 minutes, that makes you wonder where the police were. Definitely something is not adding up. Right now she is highly traumatized, she can’t walk and keep having hallucinations.”
Asked if her disagreement with her friend at school warranted her arrest, Chijozi said: “Not at all. She is a child and she should have been diverted from the criminal justice system for such a minor issue and the police do not have child friendly cells.
“It’s against the principles of child justice to put her in conditions that will victimise her. Obviously the police failed to secure the best interests of the child. We will provide legal support for the child.”
Chijozi said she phoned the girl’s mother to find out more and she was told that the police also visited them and issued threats that they should keep the matter under wraps.
“We are disheartened by these allegations and we want this child to get justice,” she said.
Commenting on the Active Girls Initiative Centre (AGIC) Facebook page, Mary Chitsulo said: “The issue needs combined voices and action for it to be treated with urgency. What a sick world we are living in.”
Oliver Ali Sicella said: “Whoever is responsible should pay the price. I personally don’t expect IG, on behalf of government, will handle this with laxity. If not then serious concerns will arise. So as a sovereign nation and as law abiding citizens let’s fight for this young lady. This is very shameful act. I don’t care if it’s the whole police unit, one way or the other someone has to be answerable.
“This is utterly unacceptable. Serious human rights violations go unnoticed because most of the times we choose to remain silent. Seriously imagine if it’s your daughter, sister or mum. Dzuka Malawi Dzuka! (wake up Malawi!),” Sicella said.
Malawi Law Society president Alfred Majamanda has since described the development as “very disturbing” and “unfortunate occurrence.”
Majamanda said the Law Society has offered to privately prosecute the suspect on pro bono basis [free of charge].
Eye of the Child director Maxwell Matewere described what happened in Dowa as a disgrace and unacceptable.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :