Instant millionaires after early pregnancies
The High Court sitting in Mzuzu has awarded 16 Nkhata Bay people, who were arrested for impregnating each other at a tender age, and their parents a total of K51 million for false imprisonment.
In 2016, some learners from Uhoho Primary School and surrounding schools, as well as some parents, were arrested and appeared before the Nkhata Bay First Grade Magistrate Court on allegations of breaching community by-laws which a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and traditional leaders created to punish those that fell pregnant at a tender age.
The magistrate court ordered the pregnant learners, the boys who allegedly impregnated them and their parents to pay fines. Those who were unable to pay were placed in police custody and were released after paying the fines.
Christon Ghambi from Chram Associates, who represented the claimants said the said NGO and the chiefs did not have jurisdiction to formulate the said by-laws.
“If anything, it is the councils who have powers to formulate bylaws and not any NGO and the chiefs,” he said.
And, in her ruling, High Court Judge Dorothy DeGabriele said the First Grade Magistrate Court’s decision, which culminated in the 16 ‘convicts’ paying K10,000 each in fines, was unlawful.
In the judgement upon which an application for the damages was made, DeGabriele said the arrest, detention and imposition of fines against the learners and their parents were unlawful because they were not done in terms of any recognised law, as falling pregnant or making someone pregnant is not an offence in Malawi.
High Court Assistant Registrar Paul Chiotcha found that the claimants had been exposed to humiliation, mental suffering and psychological torture, which is likely to have far-reaching consequences on their mental health.
The K51 million that the 16 people have received is for damages and restitution.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) has, meanwhile, lauded the court for the ruling.
SALC Deputy Director Tambudzai Gonese- Manjonjo said the people were detained for reasons not provided for by law.
“The claimants have been vindicated and it is hoped that cases like this will bring accountability for violation of rights and also shine a light on harmful practices and the misuse of State power to police social issues like dealing with learner pregnancy,” she said.