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MHRC to probe sexual abuse reports

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The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) will investigate reports of sexual abuse in some higher learning institutions, government departments and parastatals including public broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Women Wing had written the Office of the Ombudsman urging it to investigate the reported cases.

“It’s a profound day because this is the first time we have received such a petition and it is a positive step because what this means is that we are breaking the wall of silence over these matters that are deeply hurtful and can cause permanent damage to the victims,” Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said when we sought her reaction on the matter yesterday.

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Chizuma, who is also an MHRC commissioner, said the institution has already started doing preliminary work towards investigating the matter.

“Because of the close relationship between my office and MHRC, we are aware that the commission is working on the matter since this is largely a human rights issue. We therefore will leave the matter with the commission and if there will be other aspects that would best be investigated by us then we will do that,” Chizuma said.

HRDC Women Wing wrote the Ombudsman Monday calling for investigations into allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace and institutions of higher learning.

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In the statement, the group also called for investigations into reports of sexual abuse in parastatals including MBC.

“Most of these women have been unable to lodge complaints while some that have been able to lodge complaints have not been assisted in an effective manner. As such, this practice has remained unchecked and women have continued suffering.” the statement reads.

The Gender Equality Act provides for penalties and fines against persons found guilty of committing cases that border on sexual harassment.

Section 6 (2), for example, provides that a person who sexually harasses another commits an offence and is liable to a fine of K1 million and to a term of imprisonment for five years.

But the petition notes that despite the existence of these provisions, there has been a lack of enforcement due to the prevailing environment which limits survivors from reporting incidences which ultimately has an effect on the wellbeing of the concerned women.

The petition has been signed by activists Beatrice Mateyo, Sibongile Chibwe Singini, Thandizo Mphwiyo, Emma Chigwenembe, Sammy Macjessie, Beatrice Chiphwanya, Edna Tembo, Carol Cossam and Zinenani Majawa.

The Gender Equality Act defines sexual harassment as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

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