Warning on stiffer punishments to be meted our for sexual abuse offenders falling on deaf ears

* Defilement cases continue to rise

* Three offenders arrested in past 24hrs

* Bicycle taxi operator arrested in Nkhotakota for raping an 18-year-old girl

* Evance Banda arrested for allegedly defiling a 12-year-old girl

* 56-year-old health care worker at Dedza Hospital, arrested for for touching breasts of a 16-year-old school girl patient.

* Chakwera says government has instituted a task force to look into such cases

* Activists propose special court hearing division to speed up cases

President Chakwera

Maravi Express

Despite nationwide demonstrations by concerned civil rights advocates; association of women in media (AWOME); Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara; Minister of Gender Patricia Kaliati and even the State President himself, Lazarus Chakwera, cases of rape and sexual defilement keep rising.

Just in the past 24 hours, there have been reports of arrests of three offenders accused of sexual defilement and indecent sexual assault — a worrisome development that all the serious warnings on the public that the authorities will apply stiffer punishment on sexual abusers is falling on deaf ears.

Demonstrations against rape by AWOME

Last week, President Chakwera added credence to the nationwide calls for the stop to the increase cases of rape and defilement in the country and warned of stiffer punishments, saying the government has instituted a task force to look into such cases so that girls and women are protected.

“It is disturbing to learn that children and women are being defiled and raped every day,” Chakwera said this when he stopped over along Kamuzu Road in Salima last week, on his way to Lilongwe from Mangochi.

“I would like to warn you that government will not tolerate this malpractice. Everyone found perpetrating these offences will face the law,” he warned.

Recently, following the upsurge in defilement cases AWOME, women civil rights activists as well as the Speaker of Parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara marched and presented petitions to City Councils of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu and among others, demanding the government to put tougher punishments on perpetrators of up to life imprisonment as prescribed in the Penal Code.

But this has gone on deaf ears — Police in Nkhotakota have arrested a bicycle taxi operator for raping an 18-year-old girl and stealing her phone on Saturday and the same Nkhotakota Police is keeping in custody a 21-year-old Evance Banda for allegedly defiling a 12-year-old girl.

A 56-year-old health care worker at Dedza Hospital, Pilirani Save has also been arrested for indecent charges for touching breasts of a 16-year-old school girl patient.

All these cases are premeditated as the victims were lured into privacy on trust only to meet their fates.

Several activists have asked the government to setup a special division at the High Court to ensure there was swift and just handling of gender based violence (GBV) cases.

Gender Co-ordination Network chairperson, Barbara Banda implored with the Ministry of Gender to ensure the idea has been realized, saying GBV issues have been prevalent lately and calls for new, efficient ways of combating them.

Barbara Banda

“The Ministry of Gender should spearhead setting up this special division for handling GBV cases in collaboration with the Justice Department,” she said, ahead of the global 16 Days of Activism campaign to run from Wednesday, November 25 to December 10 under the theme: ‘Unite to End GBV: Prevent, Report, Respond, Fund’.

Emphasizing the call to set up a special court hearing division, UN Women resident representative, Clara Anyangwe said if adopted, this could play a pivotal role in the fight against GBV.

“Currently, it has been observed that there are delays in solving these issues as well as giving culprits less punitive punishments.

Clara Anyangwe

“So, this special division would guarantee comprehensive analysis on issues in a new way that gives better results,” she said.

In her comment, Minister of Gender, Patricia Kaliati gave a stern warning to sangomas (witchdoctors), who promise people riches if they sleep with minors as a condition for the fulfillment of the process.

“It has come to the attention of the authorities and the public that witchdoctors are one of the underlying factors responsible for the rapid rise in rape and defilement cases.

Minister Kaliati

“I want to caution everyone who is involved in this that they should put an end to this immediately or else they will be arrested,” Kaliati said.

Ntcheu Police has also expressed concern with the alarming rate of rape and defilement cases in the district, despite their effort to fight the vice.

Community Policing Coordinator, Inspector James Bunya expressed the concern during the awareness campaign meeting on Monday with members of Community Policing Forum (CPF), saying in the past 10 months, the district registered over 56 cases, comparing with 15 cases which were registered in 2019 within the same period.

Demonstrations against defilement

“A week cannot pass without recording a defilement case at our office which is a very worrisome situation, but as police we will continue to apprehend and bring to book these perpetrators of defilement,” he said.

Group Village Headman (GVH) Mtukumula had assured the law enforcement officers that they are doing everything possible within their power to deal with the problem, by conducting sensitization meetings in his community on defilement and other related issues.

He disclosed that a lot of people are now reporting such cases to Police unlike in the past when people in the area where hiding such cases.

In Dowa, chairperson for Nkukula Youth Network, Sydonia Muyande says the culture of silence was fueling the rape and defilement cases, saying almost every day there are unreported cases in the district.

She said this Friday at Mtunthama School during community engagement through Theatre for Development through Her Future Her Choice a Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Project being implemented by Network for Youth Development (NfYD) together with Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) and Oxfam with support from Global Affairs Canada.

Muyande said: “It is very sad to note that most cases are being done by people that have authority and responsibilities. Fathers are defiling their biological daughters but they are not being reported so that they should be brought to book.”

The girlchild must be protected

She urged communities to join hands to report any case of sexual harassment within their areas saying they are working tireless to sensitize the communities on how they should react when they are faced with such cases within their localities.

She also appealed to traditional leaders to stop shielding their relatives once they are involved in such acts saying by doing so cases of rape and defilement would continue in their areas.

To mitigate the rising cases, National Youth Council of Malawi (NYCOM) has introduced a program dubbed Madolo Ojaka’, which seeks to protect girls and young women from various gender based violence, teen pregnancies and forced marriages in the country.

Chief Executive Officer, Dingiswayo Jere said Madolo Ojaka is seeking to mobilise boys and men to take part in protecting the girlchild and women understanding that boys and men remain essential and a central group in promoting girls and women empowerment.

He further said through the program, chiefs’ task forces, youth and boys clubs as well as father groups will be established in all communities in the country which will help to raise awareness and deal with issues that affect women and girls’ rights.

NYCOM will also take part in holding men and boys accountable once they have impregnated a girl child, according to Jere, saying they will work with other stakeholders such Plan International Malawi, Malawi Girl Guides Association, Ministry of Gender and Ministry of Justice for the program to be sustained.

Sets the ball rolling

Two weeks ago, the High Court sitting in Mzuzu 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.

Chavula was convicted 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.

Mothers stop shielding rapists

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 third count, Chavula is reported to have defiled a nine-year-old child of his house’s tenant also at Ching’ambo.

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.”

In an interview, during the demonstrations organised by AWOME, 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.

Speaker of Parliament also attended the demos

“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.—Reported by Duncan Mlanjira (Maravi Express); Joseph Chikalipo; Martha Kwataine; Stanley Nkhondoyachepa; Gift Chaoloka; Tione Andsen; Moses Nyirenda (MANA)

Malawi Parliament