By Yamikani Phiri:
Charity, a survivor of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) from Senior Chief Mlolo in Nsanje, grudgingly withdrew her case against a man who had allegedly raped her in March 2020 because the prosecution of the case was draining her resources.
She used to spend more than K10,000 in transport fare to and from Nsanje Boma each day she gave her testimony in court.
“The case dragged and that meant more costs on me. That is why I decided to withdraw it because I felt I was being victimised twice,” Charity says.
Studies indicate that amidst rising cases of GBV in the country, most survivors are not able to access justice.
The survivors cite high levels of poverty and distance from police stations and courts as some hindering factors for their ability to access justice.
Some cases are on the courts’ rolls for long periods and cannot be supported by evidence, resulting in acquittals.
And because the cases drag, the likelihood of suspects tampering with evidence and witnesses, resulting in withdrawals, is said to be high.
Such revelations compelled the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP Lilongwe) to facilitate the introduction of mobile courts through a project aimed at fighting GBV.
“Mobile courts have helped in creating awareness about the judicial system among people in rural areas, cutting costs for them and rendering justice at their doorsteps,” CCJP Lilongwe secretary Enock Kamundi Phiri says.
And after attending a six-hour mobile court session at Senior Chief Mlolo’s headquarters recently, locals from the surrounding communities expressed optimism that the initiative will reduce GBV cases in their locations.
One of the community members, Cecilia Nyakhuwa, said most women choose to live in silence because they cannot bear the costs to be incurred from reporting to prosecution of the cases.
“We have many civil and GBV cases. I appeal to stakeholders in the GBV fight to collaborate so that survivors are able to access justice closer to their homes,” Nyakhuwa says.
During the mobile court session, First Grade Magistrate Watson Mankhanamba heard eight civil cases and one criminal case of attempted rape.
With funding from the European Union, through the Spotlight Initiative, CCJP and Child Rights Advocacy Paralegal Aid Centre (Crapac) have been working to bring justice closer to survivors as well as perpetrators of GBV in Nsanje District.
Nsanje Crapac Field Officer Susan Kaliwo- Hara states that their desire is to ensure all GBV-related cases, which include defilement, rape and incest, are heard and have judgements delivered within reasonable periods.
Kaliwo-Hara adds that they want to have mobile courts at every corner of the district, including includes traditionally seen as being hard to reach.
While praising the impact of the mobile courts, Nsanje’s Traditional Authority Ndamera asked government to construct a magistrates’ court in his area where his subjects can access justice next to their homes.
Member of Parliament for Nsanje South Constituency, Ramzan Juma Mahomedi, concurred with the traditional leader, saying his area is among those where GBV cases keep rising.
The lawmaker said most survivors rarely report the vice to law enforcement agencies because they cannot meet the cost of travelling to the police station and the court.
“We still register cases of child marriage. Most of these cases occur because we are close to Mozambique. If we had a court, we could deal with perpetrators right here,” he said.
The project has so far facilitated 11 mobile court cases within seven months where a total of 27 cases were reported and heard.
Of these, 16 were criminal while the rest were civil cases. The court has completed hearing and delivered judgments in 22 cases, with five pending.
During one of the mobile court sessions, 37-year-old McDonald Tchale was handed 13 years imprisonment with hard labour for raping an 80-year-old woman.
In another case, 37-year-old Juda Nota was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for defiling a nine-year-old girl while in another case, 18-year-old Vincent Juwawo was jailed for 14 years for defiling a 12-year-old girl.