DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women and children in Tanzania will now be able to report cases of physical and sexual abuse to specially trained policewomen, as part of the authorities' efforts to tackle gender violence in the East African country.
Tanzanian police launched the action plan this week to establish so-called Gender and Children's Desks - confidential spaces in police stations where victims of gender violence can file their complaints to female officers.
"The police force is committed to improving its response to survivors of GBV (gender-based violence) and victims of child abuse. To encourage survivors and victims to speak out, every police station needs to be a place where they feel safe, comfortable and supported," said Inspector General of Police, Saidi Mwema.
According to a 2010 Demographic and Health Survey nearly 45 percent of 15 to 49-year-olds reported having experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, with husbands and partners cited as common perpetrators.
Another government study in 2011, showed that nearly 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys have experienced sexual violence and more than 70 percent of children experienced physical violence before the age of 18.
Women's rights activists say despite the prevalence of sexual and physical violence against women and children, survivors rarely tell their stories and only a few cases are reported to the police due to stigma.
Christine Onyango, who is in charge of gender and children affairs at police headquarters in Dar es Salaam, said that the police's vision was to ensure a more effective response to violence against women and children.
"There seems to be an increase in awareness among society members as more people are willing to report incidents of abuse committed against them," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We have so far trained over 1,000 officers and one of the conditions is that after the training they are required to remain on the desk for a minimum of three years to gain experience of handling gender issues,"Onyango added.
Gender desks are dedicated units in each police station consisting of a reception area, interview and counselling room, resting area and an office.
Mary Rusimbi, an activist from Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, said that while she welcomedthe police move, more could be done to enforce the law protecting women and children from abuse and violence.
"Only a few GBV victims receive the support they need to recover and perpetrators do not face justice, leaving them free to continue committing these crimes," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rusimbi blamed bureaucracy for delays in the processing of gender violence cases, adding that many cases are dropped because women and children are often unable to travel long distances to hear their case.
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