The Mozambican Minister of Justice, Helena Kida, said on Wednesday that a commission of inquiry has been set up to probe allegations that guards at the Maputo Special Penitentiary for Women (EPEMM), better known as the Ndlavela Women’s Prison, force women inmates into prostitution.
The claims come from a devastating investigation undertaken by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP). CIP investigated this scandal for five months, and CIP investigators, pretending to be clients interested in buying prisoners for sex, infiltrated the clandestine network operated by prison guards.
CIP made its findings public at a Maputo press conference on Tuesday. The material gathered by CIP includes videos of aspects of the prostitution racket, interviews with several of the victims, and mobile phone messages between prison guards and supposed clients.
Kida held lengthy meetings, first with the Ndlavela Women’s Prison head office and then with some female inmates, who were randomly selected to speak with her. The media were not able to attend these parts of her visit.
At the ensuing press conference in the prison yard, Kida announced the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry which must report within the next 10 to 15 days.
“It is quite premature to give any prospective explanation”, she said. “That is the reason why we have set up the commission which will first unveil what has happened and secondly give solutions to the matter”.
Kida declared that the investigation must be fully independent and will not be exclusively carried out the Ministry of Justice.
The commission will be headed by the Ministry, but will include the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC), the Legal Aid Institute (IPAJ), the Legal and Judicial Training Centre, the Association of Women Jurists, the National Human Rights Commission, the Mozambique Bar Association (OAM) and psychologists.
The other stakeholders, she said, will visit the prison and listen to the victims and eventually determine whether the allegations are true or not.
Although the Ndlavela Women’s Prison, with 97 inmates, was the place where the scandal surfaced, Kida declared a similar investigation will be conducted in every prison across the country because “we cannot transform the prisons into centres of suffering.”
Kida guaranteed that, should the commission find that prison guards are indeed involved in forced prostitution, they will be held accountable in disciplinary and criminal proceedings. Measures will also be taken against the network of clients who paid for sex with the vulnerable women of Ndlavela.