Magistrates, police encouraged to use gender-related laws
Magistrates and police prosecutors in the Southern Region have been challenged to make use of the Gender Equality Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act as these acts offer redress to many gender-related offences that are currently being committed despite these laws being in place.
High Court Judge Justice Fiona Mwale said this on the sidelines of a two-day orientation workshop on gender-related laws (GRLs) that was conducted at Hotel Victoria in Blantyre last week for 30 police prosecutors and magistrates. The workshop was organised by the Permanent Committee on GRL which is one of the sub-committees of the NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN)’s after organising a similar one in Lilongwe for magistrates and prosecutors from the Central and Northern regions early this month with funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
One of the participants Magistrate Tennyson Kamtokoma from Nkungulu Magistrate Court in Mangochi hailed the coming in of NGO-GCN with the orientation meeting on the three pieces of legislation which he said have enlightened participants on how to appropriately apply the same.
He, however, bemoaned the inadequacy and long distances to Child Justice Courts in rural areas that are as far as 70km away which frustrates parents to get redress of issues that concern child maintenance as specified in the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.
“There are few child justice courts in Malawi. That is why some of us have been deciding matters of child maintenance with an aim of helping people without being aware of limitations that are in the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.
Now that we know we have limitations, we will be making decisions in respect of divorces but we will not be proceeding to make maintenance orders in respect of children … we will be referring them to Child Justice Courts,” explains Kamtokoma.
Mwale said unlike in the past, currently Malawians will go to court and be assisted with a law that is more gender-sensitive.
“Of course, there are issues that are new in that law that need to be publicised … just because you have ended a marriage is not the end of the story. You can even find other people who have contributed to the demise of your marriage liable of a criminal offence. I doubt that people have taken anybody to court yet for contributing to the end of a marriage,” explained Mwale.
“Different family members are being given obligations on marriage. Even if the people inside the marriage are not complaining about certain issues, family members can go to court. They have locus standi. Normally, the law restricts who can sue but this law is widening the standing. People who are observing abuses in the family, lack of maintenance by either the man or woman – because the law is both ways – can take the matter to court,” explained Mwale.
She said even mother-in-laws and other in-laws who cause deterioration of a marriage can face a criminal case and can be sent to prison or be fined because of their conduct or words.
Carol Mvalo, the chairperson of NGO-GCN’s Permanent Committee on GRL said there was need to orient service providers such as the police and magistrates so that these service providers can ably apply GRL in their services.
“After the orientation, we expect that both police prosecutors and magistrates will have acquired knowledge to assist them in the delivery of justice for Malawians especially the vulnerable groups such as women, girls and children,” said Mvalo.
After passing the Gender Equality Act in 2013, The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act in 2015 and The Trafficking in Persons Act in 2015, are the three GRL acts being widely used?
Justice Mwale said as far as the Gender Equality Act is concerned, she has heard once or twice in the media or by word-of-mouth where the act has been used.
“I have not come across cases in the High Court. I haven’t seen them either from the circulation list of judgements that we send to each other. That does not mean they do not exist. Yes, the act has been used to an extent but not as widely as it should be,” said Mwale.
“We all know that gender inequalities are persistent. We are always hearing about unfair practices when it comes to the work place and women. I would have thought that by now there could have been an influx of cases. So, it may mean that people are not aware of how they can use this act,” added Mwale.
Mwale further said there is need to have a more aggressive media campaign targeting the rights holders at the grassroots. She said according to the mandates given under the acts, the Ministry of Gender has the role of raising awareness of the act while the Human Rights Commission has the role of enforcing the act to assist people with court processes
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