Federal police in Zimbabwe on Tuesday reportedly confirmed the arrest of “36 children” accused of participating in the recent wave of deadly violence that has plagued some parts of the African country.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, a spokesperson for the national police, told reporters that authorities arrested “over a thousand protesters,” including the 36 children, in the wake of demonstrations that erupted this month after President Emmerson Mnangagwa more than doubled fuel prices, the New Zimbabwe newspaper reports.
“Before we came to this briefing, we inquired with all our police stations across the country. Some children were arrested during the recent civil arrest and so far we are aware that 14 were arrested in Braeside (Harare) and 22 in Chitungwiza,” Charamba revealed. “All the children arrested were released into the custody of their parents and guardians.”
“Probation officers are also involved, and all interviews will be conducted in the presence of their lawyers or guardians,” he added.
The protests, described by the New Zimbabwe as “the country’s worst public disturbances since the 1998 food riots,” triggered rampant looting and food shortages in the impoverished nation.
Zimbabweans, “particularly young boys,” broke “into supermarkets, bars, and hardware stores to grab food and other items” amid the chaos, Al Jazeera noted on January 15.
Citing the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, Bloomberg News reports that the protests have left at least 18 people dead. The ruling Zanu PF party and the MDC Alliance opposition blame one another for the violence that has so far also wounded more than 300 others, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), a constitutional body established by the country’s government, accused the nation’s police and military of using “systematic torture” against mainly young men during the demonstrations.
Charamba told reporters on Tuesday:
There is no law here in Zimbabwe that says when children commit crimes, they should not be arrested. Otherwise, we will inculcate a culture of criminality. Some of these children were arrested for throwing stones at police officers and looting. All these children have since been released into the custody of their guardians, and the courts are dealing with these. We have a partnership with the welfare department as well as probation officers to make sure the rights of these children are not overridden.
President Mnangagwa has defended the fuel hike that triggered the chaos.
Via Twitter, the president reportedly declared, “It was the right thing to do. … Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll.”
Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube recently told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the Mnangagwa administration is “determined” to press on with the economic reforms despite the bloody protests, a move that is likely to prolong the chaos.
There are rumors of an impeachment attempt potentially organized by the embattled president’s party.