The 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence came to an end on December 10, which also happens to be the International Human Rights Day. For 16 days, the world over, people marched and spoke against gender-based violence.
In Malawi, the major highlight of the 16 Days of Activism, were calls from various sections of society for the need to have stiffer punishments for the perpetrators of sexual violence.
Malawians have for some time expressed dissatisfaction with the inconsistency in the way sentences and jail terms are meted out on rape and defilement convicts.
News that the Minister of Justice will make a proposal to Parliament to amend the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Code to make punishments for rape and defilement stiffer is a very welcome development. This is the news that every Malawian that abhors rape culture has been waiting for and must support in whatever way possible, to ensure that it comes to life.
This sweet news could not have come at any better time than when the world marked the end of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence with a call to fund, respond, prevent and collect. During these 16 Days, the highlight of messages in Malawi was on the rise in gender-based violence, especially rape and defilement.
The outcry all along has been that the Judiciary somehow has been frustrating efforts of putting rape and defilement offenders behind bars and curbing the vice by, among other things, taking long to conclude cases; hence leaving offenders to roam the streets as they await court sentencing. There also has been an outcry on the length of jail terms that the courts mete out as being not stiff enough to deter would-be offenders.
One can only hope that what the Minister of Justice has said is not mere lip-service and that he and his ministry, and the legislative arm of government are going to concretise this. Oftentimes such brilliant propositions have been shot down in Parliament because some of our legislators have difficulties grasping such issues.
This where we all have to come in. There is need to lobby and, most importantly, educate those MPs that have difficulties understanding such complex issues. Malawi needs this. We can no longer sit back and watch sex offenders spend a few months or years in the cooler and be released back into society. Girls, women and boys need to be protected and I believe having stiffer punishment is one way of protecting them.