Saving girls from men on the prowl

MKANDAWIRE—This is what parents feel

Cathedral silence consumed Kauma Village Youth and Children’s Centre Hall in Lilongwe on the morning of March 2, 2023.

Senior Resident Magistrate Shukran Kumbani was delivering a sentence in a defilement case.

In the makeshift dock was 52-year-old Sylvester Kambatata, standing accused of defiling two nieces aged eight and 11, between November and December 2022.


Donning a blue t-shirt, a torn light green short and a pair of pink crocks, Kambatata occasionally glanced around the room teeming with traditional leaders, police officers and members of the public.

He had pleaded with the court for leniency on the basis that he was a first-time offender, was taking life-prolonging drugs and that, as an uncle to the victims, he was determined to see them grow into responsible citizens.

Kumbani ruled that the aggravating factors in Kambatata’s crime far outweighed the mitigating factors.


“Many parents and guardians feel that their children are no longer safe in any place, be it at home, school or church, where they are likely to stray away from the ever-watchful eyes of their parents or caregivers.

“They are at any given time vulnerable to defilers who may either be their own fathers, neighbours or indeed any close male kinsfolk. Their situation is precarious; hence, there is a need to find a lasting solution to their predicament,” the magistrate said.

He argued that Kambatata should have realised that he was HIV positive and on treatment before defiling his nieces.

Kumbani further indicated that at his age, Kambatata was supposed to know that it was improper to have sex with the little girls.

“A signal must be sent out to others like this defendant that behaviour like this is unacceptable and will always be and must be punished by a severe custodial sentence,” the magistrate said.

He then went ahead to slap Kambatata with two 21-year jail terms which would run concurrently.

A few days after Kambatata’s sentencing, the High Court in Blantyre ordered former Medical Aid Society of Malawi Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Ngomwa, to spend 35 years in jail after convicting him of defilement.

Judge Ruth Chinangwa sentenced Ngomwa to 35 years for defilement, 25 years for rape and four years for indecent acts in front of a minor.

The sentences are running concurrently.

Malawi has in recent years been registering several cases of defilement and rape.

Malawi Police Service spokesperson Peter Kalaya says MPS statistics indicate that in 2021, Malawi recorded 2,387 cases of rape and defilement.

In 2022, a total of 1,836 cases of rape and defilement were recorded.

Youth Net and Counselling Executive Director MacBain Mkandawire says many girls and women who are being subjected to sexual violence keep quiet because they feel it is shameful to say they have been defiled.

Mkandawire invites immoral men to put themselves in the shoes of parents of the girls they are defiling before doing the acts.

“How would they feel finding a 56-year-old man on top of their seven-year-old daughter? That is what parents of victims of defilement feel,” he says.

On February 18 this year, President Lazarus Chakwera signed into law an amended Penal Code which provides for stiffer punishments for defilers.

The new law defines a child as someone under the age of 18, a departure from the previous provision which put a child’s age at 16.

Any male person who has sexual intercourse with a female child shall be liable to a maximum of life imprisonment.

United Nations Resident Coordinator Rebecca Adda- Dontoh said the new law would help protect children and end child marriages in the country.

“If you have a government that ensures that a policy is in place and that it is enforced to protect boys and girls, I think that is worth applauding,” Adda- Dontoh said.

Girls’ Education Trust Executive Director Limbikani Kamlongera says the Penal Code amendment will help in curbing cases of victimisation of girls.

Kamlongera says her organisation advocates for the rights of girls to education and protection from harm.

“By imposing severe penalties on those who engage in such acts, the law will serve as a deterrent, sending a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated in Malawi.

“Girls Education Trust believes that this is a positive development for the country and we hope that it will lead to a safer environment for girls to learn and grow,” she said.

As Unicef puts it in its 2019 appeal titled ‘Protecting Children From Violence is Everyone’s Responsibility: Ending Violence Against Children’, children in Malawi experience high rates of violence with one in five girls and one in seven boys experiencing sexual violence.

According to Unicef, most children who are sexually abused in Malawi experience it on multiple occasions and that one in three females define their first sexual experience as non-consensual.

“Sexual violence has serious effects on children and can result in long-term physical and psychological problems including sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, stigma, discrimination, physical trauma, psychological distress and learning difficulties.

“Beyond the horrific impact on individuals, any form of violence leaves severe and long-term scars on families, communities and societies, and results in significant economic and social costs for countries,” the UN agency says.

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