The battle against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) may not be won anytime soon in Mzimba following revelations that police officers in the district demand payment before assisting women who avail themselves at various Victim Support Units (VSUs).
The women from the north of the district raised the concern over the weekend, during awareness sessions of the existing gender-related laws in the country by their Member of Parliament, Agnes Nyalonje.
They say this has in turn forced most of them to leave most of the abuses unreported since the K2,000 which the officers ask for is too high for their affordability.
“We walk long distances to police units only to be asked to give an officer K2,000 for us to be assisted. This is common with the Victim Support Unit staff. So it’s a concern because most activists encourage us to report the violence that we face to police,” said Annabel Mhango from Edundu.
Amid handclapping from fellow participants, Mhango also disclosed that officers from Ekwendeni, Ezondweni and Euthini usually ask for K5,000 in order to release a suspect on bail.
“We are appalled by the corruption among our officers,” she charged.
Magistrate Sophie Chimaliro, who also sits in the regional community policing executive committee, attested to the complaints, saying a number of women have raised the issue with her before.
“This is not new, we also have them [complaints] in town. I have in mind Luwinga and Mchengautuwa police units. It is an issue that should be addressed if we are serious about ending GBV among our people.
“The prevalence of such malpractice is worrisome because the officers themselves are quite aware that victims of domestic violence barely have a permanent source of income, and it’s unfair to expect such a person to raise a certain amount in order to access help,” Chimaliro added.
But spokesperson of police in the North, Peter Kalaya, expressed shock when The Daily Times sought his comment on the matter in an interview on Monday.
He said it is a disappointing development, especially now when government reforms are order of the day.
“We have had massive awareness campaigns in that area, assuring people that police services are for free because we thought in the past some officers took advantage of people’s ignorance. So this is an eyeopener to us that more work needs to be done.
“People should learn to report such matters to the mother station of a particular police unit, should they face such a scenario,” Kalaya said.
He further implored locals to utilise the newly introduced Professional Standards Unit (PSU) if they have reservations with the manner in which the officers are executing their duties.
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