By Duncan Mlanjira
As calls for stiffer punishment mount for the authorities to act on the increase of rape and defilement cases in the country, the High Court sitting in Mzuzu has sentenced 37-year-old Thomas Chavula to 58 years imprisonment with hard labour on three counts of defilement — one involving a three-year-old girl.
The sentence for the first count is 24 years; the second is 18 years and the third 16 years and taking cognizance that to allow the three sentences run consecutively would mean serving 58 years, Justice T.R. Ligowe has ordered that they should run concurrently — to serve the highest sentence of 24 years.
Justice Ligowe said the case was heard at the Chief Magistrate Court but since the lower authority could not pass a greater punishment sentence of over 20 years as per the law, it was committed before the High Court after Chavula was found guilty.
The Chief Resident Magistrate convicted Chavula in the first count in which he defiled his step-daughter between 2016 and 2019 at Ching’ambo in Mzuzu — beginning when she was a nine-year-old.
The step-father used to defiling her in the absence of her mother and her siblings by luring her into his bedroom but she failed to report to her mother because she was being threatened and also feared of breaking her mother’s marriage.
The second count involved a three-year and three months old — a neighbor’s daughter and the victim herself testified that she was lured into the convict’s bedroom and did “vauzeleza” (silly things).
“The Chief Resident Magistrate found that the girl could use that word for a wide range of sexual activities apart from penetration,” observed Justice Ligowe.
“But medical examination concluded that she had bruises indicative of penetration. Since the hymen was intact, the medical practitioner who examined her testified that her opinion was that penetration was likely partial.”
In the third count, Chavula is reported to have defiled a nine-year-old child of his house’s tenant also at Ching’ambo.
She was also lured to his bedroom and raped her. The victim is reported to have noticed some fluid and blood from her private parts.
A medical examination a week later showed bruises sorrounding her genitalia and that her hymen was torn.
Justice Ligowe said the prosecutor pleaded with the Chief Resident Magistrate that although the convict was a first offender, the court had to consider the seriousness of the offence as shown by its maximum penalty and its prevalence in Mzuzu City.
“No week passes without the court registering a defilement case. The prosecutor also submitted that the convict planned to commit the offenses as he used his bedroom to defile the girls.
“The girls were traumatized and may not get over the experience. The convict has the duty to protect them, especially his step-daughter.”
In passing judgement, the Chief Resident Magistrate had taken note of the convict’s plea for leniency at the same time agreeing with the prosecutor that these were premeditated planned actions to defile them as he craftily sent them to his bedroom as though to perform some task for him, leaving no reason to suspect any foul play.
“[The Chief Resident Magistrate] notes that the girls were obviously vulnerable because of the trust by his conduct.”
The Chief Resident Magistrate also considered that the victim was a first offender entitled to consideration of non-custodial sentences under section 340 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code but at 37 years old — when he started defiling his step-daughter — he was matured enough to face the full rigour of the punishment.
On his plea for leniency that he has three children to take care of born in 2003, 2006 and 2009, the magistrate opined that he did not consider the plight of his children in view of the fact that he in the first place had no regard for the children he defiled and that they were much younger.
Quoting the case of Rep v. Asidi and another, Conf. Case No. 955 of 1999 in which Justice Chimasula said: “Imprisonment certainly involves hardship to family and defendants. Courts always hear these pleas — they are matters that defendants must expect if they commit crimes.
“If courts listen to these pleas more often, they will be preoccupied with the plight of the defendant’s relations and ignore the crime the defendant has committed. It is only where there is prospect of serious hardship to family that courts, out of mercy, allow domestic consideration.”
The sentence of 24 years with hard labour for the first count was that he defiled the girl for a period of three year (from age 9 to 11) and “considering that he defiled three girls in his vicinity, it seems some kind of habit had developed in him”.
“He is, therefore, dangerous to society. He should be kept away for a long time,” Justice Ligowe said.
“Regarding the second count, it is so difficult to understand what he was up to in having sex with a three-year-old girl. However, because it was once, I sentence him to imprisonment for 18 years with hard labour.
“In the third count, the girl is younger than in the first count, but older than in the second count and he defiled her once. I sentence him to imprisonment with hard labour for 16 years.”
Some three weeks ago, Association of Women in Media (AWOME) — in conjunction with women civil rights activists as well as Speaker of Parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara, stormed the streets of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu with a petition to demand the government to act on the increase cases of defilement.
Among others, the women in media are demanding the government to put tougher punishments on perpetrators of sexual violence so that they should be given stiffer sentences up to life imprisonment as prescribed in the Penal Code.
Speaking before delivering the petition, AWOME-Lilongwe Chapter chairperson, Josephine Phumisa took cognizance that recently, Malawi Girl Guide Association (MAGA) also marched against the same abuses which the media highlighted.
“We have been writing stories for a long time but these cases are still rising so we are worried that is why we have taken it to the streets and hope that people will listen and they will act on our demands,” she had said.
Phumisa if there will not be any action taken they will advocate in another form.
“We will revise some laws so that these perpetrators are getting stiffer sentences because we have noticed that some of the sentences these rapists are getting are not enough,” she said.
In an interview, the Speaker Gotani Hara said as a woman, she was concerned with the situation, saying it was not fair that young girls should continue being raped.
“There is need for harmonisation of the laws between the Child Justice and the Penal Code so that even those that do not report the incidences should also face the law.
“Because what happens sometimes is that these defilement cases we know are the ones that we managed to get information about, but others are not brought to the public,” she said.
The Speaker also explained that the laws are done by the Executive Arm of the Government which generates the bills so Parliament will give space and attention once the bills are brought to their attention.
“Parliament will make sure that such bills should come on the order paper as quickly as possible and so they will work on them,” she had said.