Religion, State should not regulate morals


It seems that there is a written and unwritten rule that the creation of rules and policies should be the privilege of the State.

Unfortunately, the State sometimes uses laws and policies it advances to message its ego. Many are instances when, instead of serving the interests of the citizenry, the State has advanced goals that are more ‘personal’ than national in nature.

The issue of Injunction Law, which will forever be associated with the administration of the late Bingu wa Mutharika, comes into the picture.


Before that, one president Bakili Muluzi, whose regime took Malawians on the democratic path from 1994 to 2004, advanced his Third Term agenda using one of the branches of the government, namely the Legislature.

Well, the Third Term bid had marks of Muluzi— at the expense of national development— all over it; so that, in all fairness, the infamous Third Term bid will forever be viewed as the manifestation of a personal agenda. The whole issue highlighted how, sometimes, the cause of national good is sacrificed on the altar of selfishness.

History, of Malawi and of the world, is littered with stories of State actors who advanced personal agendas at the expense of national objectives. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed. But personal agenda has always been there.


The issue of personal versus national agenda aside, the State has, sometimes, been guilty of making its power felt in areas that are more personal than national. Again, this has been a life-long dilemma— not just in Malawi, but world over.

Take, for instance, the issue of homosexuality. It has been argued, including by foreign governments such as that of Germany, that the State has no business meddling in the affairs of citizens— for, whenever it does so, it does so at the expense of one public service or another.

The Government of Germany weighed in on the issue when the Malawi Government proposed a bill that would criminalise homosexuality between women. Unlike homosexual relations between men, female homosexuality is not captured in the Penal Code. A bill was, therefore, introduced in a bid to ensure greater equality between men and women.

Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, said in a statement released at the time: “The German Government sees the worldwide decriminalisation of homosexuality as a core human rights concern. In this regard, the criminalisation of female homosexuality in Malawi is a serious setback.”

At the time, Malawi’s Attorney General was Dr Jane Assah.

The development also attracted the wrath of the Association of Secular Humanism (Ash). Ash Executive Director, George Thindwa, said at the time that criminalisation of homosexuals was “a retrogressive and unconstitutional move” as “the private behaviour of consenting adults that does no harm to another is no legitimate concern of the State”.

Reacting to concerns that foreign nationals were the ones corrupting Malawians, Thindwa said: “The association observes that there are many Malawian homosexuals who have never had any contact with westerners or so-called ‘homosexual culture’.”

Such is the uproar when the State makes blatant attempts to meddle in affairs of individual citizens, at the expense of national discourse.

And, as the State mulls over the debate bordering on whether it should interfere in the lives of individual citizens or not, it seems to have a competitor: religious leaders.

In the latest case, Malawi is about to host the World Congress of Families Conference at a time church-goers have been cited as being among those who procure , among others, abortion services in private hospitals.

To be held under the theme ‘The African Family and Cultural Colonialism’, the conference, organised by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi and the Evangelical Association of Malawi in partnership with the African Organisation for Families, a regional affiliate of World Congress of Families, seeks to, among other things, buttress the point that Malawian women who seek safe abortion services are influenced by foreign cultures.

Among participating countries are the United States, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Uganda, Swaziland, Ghana, Namibia, Zambia, Cameroon and hosts Malawi.

The conference will also discuss safe abortion at length.

What this indicates is that, instead of keeping away from divisive matters such as sexual reproductive health rights and other sexual reproductive health issues— so that, maybe, religion can remain unsullied by rumblings borne out of emotions— religious leaders seek to get involved in the making of personal decisions. A tall order.

If the truth be told, the church is supposed to remain church-like: Loving and sensitive, by keeping away from practices that fall nothing short of meddling in private citizens’ affairs.

Whenever religion comes out brazing on an issue so divisive as, say, safe abortion, it runs the risk of being branded a ‘murderer’ because unsafe abortion is a silent crisis that has been eating through the fabric of the nation— killing both suspecting and unsuspecting women alike.

At the same time, the family, as a unit, has been responsible for bringing untold misery to society. Take, for example, the case of married people who infect their partners— willingly or not— with sexuality transmitted diseases that have left orphans all over the place.

History is littered with stories of events that were sparked by the church, events that have led to the deaths of thousands. Events that culminated in the war in Rwanda attest to this.

In Malawi, the truth is that women who have no money have been dying in the course of procuring unsafe abortion services from people who should have no business doing it because, on one hand, they are untrained and, on the other hand, they are motivated by money.

Not surprisingly, Ministry of Health statistics are littered with figures of women who have died in childbirth, and the systematic oppression of women from poor households who are forced to seek uncharitable means of terminating pregnancy while the reach enjoy access to private health facilities that offer safe abortion services freely, albeit at the cost of a leg.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe abortion is a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy done by persons who may lack necessary skills or conducted in an environment that lacks the minimal medical standards or both.

A presentation titled ‘Access to Safe Abortion as a Human Right’ made by gender and legal consultant Tinyade Kachika indicates that sexual reproductive issues go beyond culture and religion.

Kachika quotes a WHO report: “Countries with legal restrictions or limited access . . . must look beyond the cultural and/or religious debate associated with induced abortion to the public health issues associated with unsafe abortion.”

WHO indicates that safe abortion is part of the package of services required in order to promote women’s reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights include the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so; the right of individuals to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health; the right of couples to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

This is also emphasised by the National Reproductive Health Policy of 2002.

In addition, the 1995 Republican Constitution enshrines various rights that agree with the need to provide safe abortion as a human right.

“Malawi has ratified several binding regional and international human rights instruments that impose an obligation to address women’s health, including through the provision of safe abortion services.

“Malawi has adopted a key continental plan of action that includes a concrete strategy to address unsafe abortion,” Kachika points out.

On its part, the Malawi government has bound itself to respect the right to safe abortion services by ratifying a number of treaties. For example, the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which was ratified in 2005, commits State parties to authorise medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.

Then, there is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which was ratified in 1987.

According to the Cedaw Committee, the right to women’s health should also be interpreted from the angle that it is only women— and not the State or religion— that must live with the physical and emotional consequences of unwanted pregnancy.

It says denying women access to medical services that enable them to regulate their fertility or terminate a dangerous pregnancy amounts to refusal to provide health care that only women need, according to General Recommendation 24 on Women and Health.

Cedaw is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Apart from Cedaw, Malawi also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1993.

The Human Rights Committee has provided the guidance that interpreting the right to life should include the obligation of governments to address unsafe abortions as one of the measures to protect the right.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker