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Is Malawi lenient on rape or defilement perpetrators?

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UNITED AGAINST VIOLENCE— Women (left and right)

By Joseph Chikalipo:

Under siege! This best describes the situation Malawi finds itself in following the recent spate of defilement, rape and other gender-based violence-related issues.

This is despite that countless awareness campaigns have been carried out across the nation, the news media have brought to light numerous cases, punitive sentences have been meted out and warnings continue to be issued.

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Much as any citizen is capable of breaking the law, it beggars belief that educated people are among the culprits.

In other cases, men-in-uniform, who are entrusted with law enforcement duties, have been spearheading the shameful acts of rape and defilement.

In 2019, the nation got the shock of the decade when it came to light that countless women in Msundwe, Mpingu and M’bwatalika in the Central Region were sexually harassed by the police during post-election demonstrations.

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The offenders are yet to be brought to book despite numerous interventions by stakeholders such as the Office of the Ombudsman and Malawi Women Lawyers Association.

Regardless of circumstances that might lead one to commit rape, there will never be justification for this atrocity.

So, where is the flaw in as far as curbing this challenge is concerned?

There have been propositions that, maybe, some of the sentences meted out are not punitive enough; therefore, more has to be done.

For instance, in early November this year, the Association of Women in Media (Awome) demonstrated against rising cases of defilement and rape in various cities of Malawi. They called for stringent measures against sexual offenders.

Shortly before delivering the petition, Awome-Lilongwe Chapter Chairperson Josephine Phumisa highlighted to the gathering some alternative plans.

“We have noticed that some of these rapists are getting lenient sentences. Owing to this, we will push for the revision of some laws so that perpetrators should be punished severely,” She said.

One of the notable participants in the demonstration was Speaker of the National Assembly Catherine Gotani Hara, who acknowledged that defilement and rape cases were getting out of hand.

“Laws and punishments are there but we need harmonisation of the Child Justice Act and the Penal Code because, in some cases, we are confined to punishing child defilers yet someone who raped a woman goes unpunished,” Gotani-Hara said.

She also pointed at another silent perpetrator; those that hide perpetrators of abuse directed at women.

The law, Gotani-Hara suggested, must therefore set out punishments for individuals that play the complacency card.

“This will include punishing those that try to hide these unpleasant practices,” she said

Interestingly, during the demonstration, a number of women were sighted carrying controver-sial placards with radical calls for castration of errant men as well as life imprisonment sen-tences.

Some quarters might argue that these two suggested solutions are out-of-bounds.

Maybe jail sentences are enough; although, sometimes, prison time for the convict is not ade-quate. Cases abound.

In September2020, a 42-year-old man was sentenced to 15 years in jail with hard labour for defiling his 12-year-old daughter.

Fifteen years may sound harsh but remember that the defiled girl will live with such memories forever.

It could be time those in the justice delivery system engaged another gear.

As the great philosopher Hippocrates submitted, “Desperate times call for desperate measures”.—Mana

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