No safe houses for child victims- report

Children playing in a street PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
Children playing in a street PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE

Botswana does not have safe houses for child victims, instead the country relies on the goodwill of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a recent study by the Ministry of Justice has revealed. The report further paints a unfriendly environment for child victims right from the police station where cases are first registered.

Most officers who were interviewed in the report highlighted the inadequate infrastructure to create a child-friendly environment for managing child victims and those in conflict with the law across many police stations. “Many police stations do not have appropriate space for interviewing children. For conducting interviews with children, the police often make do with existing office space, where the regular occupants of the office move to make way for a child’s interview.

This results in people often having to report cases in areas where the public can see and hear them, breaching privacy and confidentiality of the child,” the report reads. It further details that from their findings from time to time, the police would encounter a child in need of protection. This could be a child victim of sexual or physical violence, neglect, or other forms of abuse, or a child in conflict with the law who needs protection from public backlash, but the reality is that neither the police nor the social workers have facilities for safe custody of children. The police refer such cases to the social workers, while the social workers themselves rely on the NGOs to assist in this regard. Prosecution of child victim cases Amongst the many challenges of resources and manpower one major concern Botswana faces for the timely prosecution of cases involving children is that the country only has one forensic lab. “To build a strong case for prosecution, the police require forensic evidence. Investigating Officers across the country collect specimens for forensic testing in a wide variety of cases ranging from rape, murder, assault, and substance abuse. Police stations from all over the country rely on only one forensic testing lab.

This results in excessive delays in the processing of cases for prosecution because results from the forensic laboratory are delayed,” the report states. Notably, the report further says that comparative analysis of interviews with child victims, offenders, and their caregivers show that some police procedures, such as arrest, interviews and detention of children are inconsistent with principles of the best interest of the child. Contrary to the accounts of the police in the study districts, police followed children to their homes in full police uniform and transported them in marked police vans

“One of the children interviewed at Ikago centre reported being arrested in the early hours of the morning by a squad of police officers in full police uniform who then proceeded to keep him waiting in the police station until 7am when the CID officers reported for duty.

The CID officers then kept the child until 8pm,” an example states. The report continues, “Of the eight children interviewed at Ikago, six of them reported being assaulted by the police during arrest, including one who recalled being beaten with black power cables under his feet while in handcuffs, thus violating the best practice that children should not be handcuffed on arrest.” The report further details that for underage accused persons Botswana does not have enough juvenile prisons nor holding cells. “Developing a justice system requires creating safe spaces for children, who may be a risk to the public if they have committed a violent crime. Botswana has no elaborate risk management protocol for temporarily holding violent-prone children in conflict with the law in safe and conducive holding cells. Children are often held in prison cells together with hard-core criminals, which may be detrimental to the safety of such children,” the report says.

However, police officers have advised the need for a social worker 24-hour stationed at all police stations. According to the research findings children’s cases in Botswana may take up to five years to conclude and these undue delays often lead to miscarriage of justice and infringement on children's right. Despite the gloomy findings, the Botswana Police Service (BPS) are in the process of setting up child-friendly police stations, aiming at handling cases in a child-friendly manner and ensuring uniformity in handling children’s cases across the country. They set up a child friendly police centre at Broadhurst Police Station in December 2020 after a pilot phase. The BPS in collaboration with UNICEF set up seven more child-friendly police centres, in areas like Shakawe, Letlhakane and Gantsi. Through support from the British National Crime Agency and the British High Commission, 25 police officers (60% female officers) from all 18 policing districts, have been trained on child friendly policing including child development, collecting evidence from children and roles of different stakeholders in ensuring access to justice.

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