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Protecting girls from cold-blooded men

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AGAINST RAPE—Kaliati

Agness (not real name) is yet to turn five years old.

When this reporter, in the company of the police, met up with her at her home in Mbuna Village, Traditional Authority Mazengera in Nathenje in Lilongwe, the girl just cried – haunted by the ordeal she suffered on August 6, 2020.

On that day, Agness, then four years old, was defiled by a man who should have been offering her protection. She was abused by a 29-year-old Afeti Daniel, from the same village and a brother-in-law to her mother.

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On that day, Daniel’s wife had gone away to a funeral. He took advantage of her absence and invited the girl child of his wife’s sister into his house where he defiled her.

Malawi is undergoing a crisis of sexual violence against her women girl children and women. Agness is one of the more than 2,000 girl children that were violated –by men –in Malawi in the year 2020.

According to Malawi Police Service statistics, as at November 2020 the country recorded a total 2 053 cases of defilement. This is 27 percent higher than the 1681 cases which the police recorded in 2019.

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In terms of rape, the country recorded 263 cases as of November 2020 as compared to 198 rape cases reported in the same period for the year 2019.

Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, acknowledges the crisis. She argues that hardly a day passes without hearing of a case of rape, defilement and other forms of violence against girls, women and children.

She says it is even disheartening that the perpetrators of these evil acts include relatives, biological fathers and even lawyers who most people expect to be protectors of women and children from these vices.

Richard Chimwendo Banda, Minister of Homeland Security, is co-chairperson for the National Taskforce on Rape and Defilement. He too admits a rise in defilement cases in Malawi and says the reasons which are cited as to why people carry out these abuses are unproven.

He gave an example of the HIV cleansing myth where it is believed that an HIV-infected person can be cured by having sex with a child.

Chimwendo also notes that when it comes to justice for those that are abused, the wheels have been either slow or non-existent altogether. He cites a number of reasons which contribute to the lack of access to justice for women and children who have been victims of sexual violence.

“In some instances, the abuser is also the caregiver and someone that the individual is reliant on for personal care,” he says.

In most cases, he adds, justice system institutions are inaccessible due to insufficient information available and limited access to legal protection and representation.

“Law enforcement officials and the legal community are ill-equipped to address the violence,” he says.

However, in recent times, the courts have fired serious warning shots to defilers.

On 8 January 2021, silence gripped the High Court in Zomba as Justice Redson Kapindu, delivered a judgment in a defilement case.

In the case, 43-year-old Fabiano Maliko had appealed his 14-year jail sentence meted on him by the Magistrates Court for defiling a 10-year-old girl.

Maliko, whom the 10-year-old victim called ‘uncle’, was a friend to the girl’s father. The father would entrust him the task of dropping or picking the girl up from school.

According to evidence tendered in court, on some such trips, Maliko, whose wife died in 2014, would divert to his house with the victim where he would defile her.

In the judgement, Kapindu said the court could not imagine the excruciating, piercing pain the little child experienced.

He added that it was hard for the court to imagine the degree of psychological trauma or injury – both present and future – on the little girl.

“It is this Court’s view that any case where a mature man of more than 30 years of age defiles a child, of 10 years or less, more than once, must fit in the category of the worst instances of the offence and must, unless the court is significantly moved by mitigating factors, attract the maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” Kapindu said.

The judge observed that Parliament did not prescribe maximum penalties in the laws “for decorative purposes, or as conceptual fictions, or as mere illusory punishment signposts”.

“Parliament means what it says…,” Kapindu said.

He set aside the initial 14-year jail sentence and handed Maliko with a 40-year imprisonment with hard labour.

The judge threw out the argument by lawyers for Maliko that at 43 years of age, he was an old man who should be considered for mitigation in his sentence.

“That argument sounds plainly ridiculous,” Kapindu said.

Early in the year, Kapindu also made a similar ruling when he handed a 50-year jail term to Malawian of Asian origin, Zaeshan Jaral Raja, for defilement and abduction.

Kapindu made the judgment when Raja was appealing an earlier sentence of a 16-year jail term for defilement and abduction.

In another case, in December last year, Supreme Court Judge, Ivy Kamanga, sitting as a High Court Judge, set aside a 30- year jail sentence handed over to a 30-year-old man, Aubrey Kalulu, for defiling a 10-year-old girl and infecting her with HIV.

Kalulu had appealed the ruling by the lower court. Kamanga slapped him with a life sentence.

Speaking at the Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe last year when the National Taskforce on Rape and Defilement presented the National Action Plan on the matter, President Lazarus Chakwera said Malawi needs a strong medicine to cure what he called “the disease of moral bankruptcy” that is causing men to violate women and girl children.

It looks the courts are dispensing this strong medicine, and activists are applauding.

NGO Gender Coordination Network chairperson, Barbara Banda, said the 40-year sentence handed to Maliko sends a strong signal that rape and defilement will no longer be tolerated at every level of Malawi’s justice system.

“It also brings confidence in the justice system among other stakeholders. It means ultimately our girls and women are better protected when the laws are being implemented,” Banda says.

Clearly, it demands that everyone plays their part. The courts have started.

When little Agness of Lilongwe reported her nightmare to her mother, the woman took the matter to Nathenje Police Unit. A medical examination confirmed the defilement, which led to the police arresting the suspect.

National Police deputy spokesperson, Peter Kalaya, assures that the police have put it in place bold measures to deal with defilement with the seriousness it deserves.

“We will continue with sensitisations on the seriousness of defilement and the need to quickly report to the police when such offences occur,” Kalaya says.

He says one of the reasons that has led to the increase in reported cases in 2020 is that stakeholders joined the police in sensitisation.

Slowly but surely, the days of walking away with defilement and rape appear to be fading.

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