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‘Law discriminates against girl child’

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ODALA—Malawi has made a lot of progress

The law in most African countries, including Malawi, discriminates against the girl child, putting them at a disadvantage with boys, international non-governmental organisations’ report has revealed.

African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and Plan International report, the first of its kind in Africa, said laws in most countries on the continent “perpetuate deeply ingrained political, social and cultural beliefs and practices designed to subjugate girls.”

In the report titled: ‘Getting Girls Equal: The African Report on Girls and the Law’, ACPF Programme Manager, Violet Odala, cited issues such as marriage age, genital mutilation and expulsion of pregnant girl children from schools.

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“Girls fall between the cracks of most laws and policies, which in most cases either address women as a group or children as a group, without specific regard to the special situation of girls. The invisibility of girls in laws and policies has subsequently resulted in a lopsided legal pendulum tipped in favour of boys. African girls face double discrimination as both children and female,” Odala said.

In an interview from Ethiopia on Friday, Odala said the report reflects an overview of the law in Africa but the actual case studies took place in Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

“Malawi has made a lot of progress as we now have Child Justice and Protection Act but the language in that Act refers to children and not necessarily girls. We are saying that the law must remind people that children are not a homogenous group because there are girls and boys,” the Malawian said.

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She said there was need for a specific law that allows pregnant girls to return to school, adding that in other cases Malawi Penal Code uses degrading language by, for example, referring to a mentally retarded girl child who has been abused sexually as an ‘imbecile.’

In a press release, ACPF Executive Director, Assefa Bequele, said African girls are valued and respected far less than boys evidenced by exclusion, exploitation, deprivation and subjugation.

“Gender discrimination is still embedded in the laws of many African countries, even those which are signatories to international agreements. Even where laws and policies aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of girls do exist, they are frequently poorly implemented or even ignored. This is unacceptable and must stop,” Bequele said.

In the same statement, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO for Plan International, said deeply gendered and patriarchal Africa shuts out girls’ voices.

“Their opportunities for self-development and self-determination are hugely diminished or non-existent. The Sustainable Development Goals will not be reached in Africa unless there is a radical shift in laws, policies and practices towards the best interests of girls. Getting girls equal remains one of the most pressing and persistent challenges facing the continent today,” Albrectsen said.

Reacting to the report, former child court magistrate, Esmie Tembenu, Friday said she hoped the launch of the report would assist Malawi to amend laws that discriminate against girls in Malawi.

“An example is the Penal [Code] which permits girl children who are 16 years and above to consent to sexual intercourse yet the Constitution is not giving girl-children the right to enter into marriage and also the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act which is silent on child marriage as it only talks about forced marriage just to mention a few,” Tembenu said.

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