Police failed to act in best interest of Tenete: Ombudsman

17 May 2014 07:30am
WINDHOEK, 17 MAY (NAMPA) – Officials at institutions created to protect the rights of all children individually and collectively failed to act in the best interests of the deceased Fortuna Tenete.
This is one of the findings contained in a report by the Office of the Ombudsman on the circumstances which led to the detention and death of the late Tenete, a four-year-old boy who was incarcerated with his 29-year-old mother Kaarina Mateus at the Wanaheda police station’s holding cells on 21 January this year.
The report was made public by Ombudsman Advocate John Robert Walters in Windhoek on Friday morning.
According to the report, the Station Commander at the Wanaheda Police Station Josia Shikongo and all police officers who were on duty when the child was detained with his mother, the arresting and investigating officers stationed at the Windhoek Police Station, the social workers of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare - in particular those who visited the Wanaheda Police Station's holding cells - as well as the presiding magistrates and prosecutors who dealt with the case in question, completely failed to act in the best interests of the child to prevent his continuous detention in the police holding cell.
“The duty to detain mothers with children and female juveniles separate from female adults is a minimum requirement and the police officers did not do everything possible to prevent the deceased child and other female juveniles from being detained with adults.
On their version, the police failed to record the requests for assistance from social workers of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare in the past and the present matter, in their recording books,” the report noted.
It further stated that police officers failed to report the continuous disregard of their requests for assistance by social workers to a higher authority. Therefore, the best interests of the deceased child did not enjoy primary consideration because of a lack of cooperation and collaboration between the different role-players.
Walters went on to say that if the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) does not have facilities to detain mothers with children and social workers do not have places of safety to care for children while their mothers are detained, then the concern is why this case, and similar cases, were not fast-tracked.
“A greater concern is why do we (Namibia) not have courts which could fast-track cases involving the simplest of crimes?” Walters said.
The Ombudsman recommended that the construction of remand prisons in Windhoek and other towns in the country be prioritised as Cabinet already decided during October 2009 that the Ministry of Safety and Security should budget for the construction of such prisons.
He further recommended that NamPol should immediately stop the practice of detaining children and juveniles with adults.
Other recommendations are that judicial officers should undergo compulsory human rights education training, particularly on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and all other relevant international and regional human rights instruments.
The Ombudsman also requested the Namibian Government to pass the Child Care and Protection Bill and Child Justice Bill as a matter of priority and to ensure that the principle of the best interests of the child is appropriately and consistently applied in all legislative, administrative and judicial proceedings.
“I am now informed that the police station commanders and social workers of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare reached a consensus on how to deal with children detained with their mothers. This arrangement must apply country-wide and not be limited to Windhoek,” he said.
A children’s advocate and social worker in the Ombudsman office, who will be appointed in the near future, will join this arrangement to ensure that the best interests of the child in detention will enjoy primary consideration.
Tenete died at the Katutura State Hospital on 21 January, a few hours after a female inmate allegedly hit his head against the floor twice in the Wanaheda Police Station's holding cells.
A fight between the mother of the child, Mateus, and Loise Kaambu, 32, had allegedly led to the death of the boy, who was incarcerated with his mother at the time of the incident.
Meanwhile, NamPol investigations into Tenete’s death are not yet complete.
This came to light when Kaambu made another appearance in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court on 07 May 2014.
She faces a charge of murder, and made a third appearance before Windhoek Magistrate Surita Savage when her case was remanded until 01 September this year for the police investigating officers to complete their investigations.
She was refused bail when she made her first appearance in the same court on 27 January 2014.
During that first court appearance, Public Prosecutor Peter Kandjumbwa objected to the granting of bail because of the seriousness of the charge of murder.
She was, however, advised to bring a formal bail application before court if she wanted to be released on bail, but did not do so.
The boy’s mother was allegedly in custody for shoplifting, and had failed to post bail of N.dollars 500.
Kaambu was in police custody at the time for assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
After the incident, she was moved from the female police cell to the visitors’ cell to prevent her from harming other female inmates.
She is now being kept in police custody at the newly-built police holding cells at the eastern town of Gobabis in the Omaheke Region.