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Continued calls for vagrancy laws’ revision

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The Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) continues to call for the revision of the country’s vagrancy laws.

Chreaa Executive Director Victor Mhango says the current laws are discriminatory as they are primitive and they are still far from representing the needs of democratic Malawi.

In January this year, the Constitutional Court, in the vagrancy case between the State and Mayeso Gwanda, declared Section 184 (1)(c ) of the Penal Code invalid.

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Under the section, every person is deemed a rogue and vagabond if he or she is found in a public place for an illegal or disorderly purpose.

The court then recommended that the government should amend in the shortest time possible the vagrancy laws.

“The Executive is encouraged to make a detailed assessment of vagrancy laws in Malawi generally and where appropriate, initiate legislative changes in order to ensure such laws’ consistency with the Constitution,” reads part of the judgment delivered then by Justice Zione Ntaba.

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Prior to the judgment, various stakeholders had been describing the section as discriminatory, saying those who were being arrested under the section were mostly poor people.

There were also reports that the police abused this provision.

But though the provision was declared invalid, Mhango feels more needs to be done to ensure the Penal Code is in sync with current trends.

“We have been saying and we continue to say these provisions are archaic as they were adopted from the colonial times, so as an organisation, we intend to start meeting parliamentarians to consider revising these laws so that they are in sync with modern Malawi,” Mhango said.

Meanwhile, Judiciary Spokesperson Mlenga Mvula has said there is now a drop in vagrancy-related cases in the system since the ruling in January.

“Since that time, we have noticed that there is a reduction in cases related to these laws as police officers are now required to make thorough investigations before making any arrests on such matters,” Mvula said.

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