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Cham’s anti-sexual exploitation offensive

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By Samuel Chunga, contributor

If one wanted to have a picture of what difference 30 months can make in people’s lives, they have to look no farther than the Sexual Violence Against Children (SVAC) Project, which is credited for exposing defilement culprits and letting the long arm of the law reach out to errant members of the society.

Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) funded the project, thanks to grants from the Centre for Disease Control and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. The association implemented the project through two partners, the Malawi Interfaith Aids Association (MIAA) and the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and Aids.

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Through the initiative, Cham facilitated the setting up of mobile courts, which have exposed and led to the jailing of culprits in defilement and other cases of injustice against vulnerable children and women.

Cham Director of Health Programmes Elled Mwenyekonde says the 30-month K5.8 billion project helped implementers and community members fight sexual and gender-based violence and curb the spread of HIV in communities.

“Critical indicators from our beneficiaries —on the one hand— and our partners, members of staff and other stakeholders —on the other hand— clearly show that the project was a resounding success and that it needs to be extended in, and well beyond, our five focus districts of Mzimba, Zomba, Thyolo, Blantyre and Chiradzulu

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“As per our agreement, the project phased out on March 31 this year. But the impressive project phase-out reports from our partners, and which we are now reviewing, give us the determination to seek more funding from our donors Justice needs to be promoted, especially in rural areas, and Malawians ought to win the battle against the spread of HIV,” Mwenyekonde declares.

Among other things, the project offered poor people in remote areas quicker and easier access to justice through the sponsorship of mobile courts that tried cases in their localities. The courts gave ordinary villagers rare exposure to laws and its applications, and would-be offenders were discouraged from engaging in criminal activities, especially when they saw those convicted literally hauled to prison.

A report by MIAA, for example, indicates that, over the past six months, the organisation supported 289 mobile court cases, 196 of which were concluded, translating into a higher five percent case conclusion rate over the past two years.

The project also trained community members in how to prevent and detect defilement and violent acts and collect evidence and take suspected culprits to court.

Regarding the HIV and Aids fight in communities, the project employed a Faith and Community Initiative strategy that has targeted and attracted more men to volunteer to be tested for HIV within the precincts of their churches and mosques.

This involved the use of two key project members of staff – an Expert Client, who offered compelling lectures on the importance of people knowing their sero-status— and an HIV and Aids Diagnostic Assistant, who took both conventional and self-testing HIV and Aids kits to prayer houses. Those found to be HIV-positive were promptly put on life-prolonging Anti- Retroviral Therapy treatment.

Senior Chief Mpherembe of Mzimba says the initiative was life transforming.

He cites quick case management as one of the highlights of the project.

“In the past, when cases were heard only in distant district courts at Mzimba Boma or Mzuzu City, many of these cases stalled because some witnesses could not afford transport fares to the courts. That stalled many cases and perpetrators took advantage of this,

“But the project did well to shoulder expenses for full court sitting processes through mobile courts. People have learnt a lot, especially after seeing notorious perpetrators appearing in court in handcuffs and, sometimes, being taken to jail after their conviction and sentencing.” he remarks.

Magistrate Peter Kandulu, who is based in Mzuzu City and is one of the judicial leaders who often presided over mobile court cases in village settings in the country’s Northern Region district, notes that the project has empowered ordinary people to not only prevent and identify sexual exploitation and gender violence in communities but also gather critical evidence with which to confront accused persons in court.

“Mobile courts have proved to be efficient and effective when it comes to the dispensation of justice… I surely agree that mobile courts have united the villagers to fight the common enemy of defilement and other related cases in their communities. Girls and women are particularly feeling much more secure and safer with the conviction and sentencing of those people who committed these offences,” Kandulu declares.

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