Amid reports of increased cases of sexual violence, the High Court Mzuzu Registry has sentenced a 41-year-old man to a cummulative 58 years imprisonment for defiling three girls between 2016 and 2019.
However, the man, Thomas Chavula, will serve the sentence concurrently and spend 24 years in jail.
The matter first came before the Mzuzu Magistrate’s Court, but was referred to the High Court as the lower court could not pass a sentence of more than 21 years imprisonment, which it deemed fit for the convict.
In his November 6 2020 judgement, judge Thomson Ligowe states that in the first count, Chavula repeatedly defiled his 11-year-old step-daughter between 2016 and 2019.
In the second count, Chavula is said to have defiled a three-year-old girl in March 2019, who was a daughter to his neighbour, while in the the third count, Chavula defiled a nine-year-old girl, his tenant’s daughter, in August 2019.
Reads the ruling in part: “Regarding the first count, Thomas Chavula defiled the girl repeatedly over a period of three years from the age of nine to 11. In the instance mentioned by the girl, he used a deceptive tact to get her into his bedroom. The girl was injured in her private parts.
“At the age of 41, he was old enough to appreciate the consequences of his acts. Considering that he defiled three girls in his vicinity, it seems some kind of habit had developed in him. He is, therefore, dangerous to society. He should be kept way for a long time. I order imprisonment for 24 years with hard labour.”
On the second count, Ligowe said it was difficult to understand what Chavula was up to by defiling a three year old girl. But because he had done it once, Ligowe sentenced him to 18 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Similarly, on the third count, in the Referral Case Number 1 of 2020, in which Chavula defiled
his tenant’s nine-year-old daughter, Ligowe handed the convict a 16-year jail sentence.
He concluded: “It remains to decide whether the sentences should run concurrently. There is a discussion of the principles to apply in Republic Vs George Nthambo, Conf. Case No. 275 of 2018 (Mzuzu Registry) (unreported).
“To allow the sentences to run consecutively results in him being in prison for the next 58 years. That is obviously too much and tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment. I order the sentences to run concurrently.”
Women Legal Resource Centre executive director Maggie Kathewere Banda has since hailed the determination, saying it will go a long way in deterring would-be offenders.
In an interview yesterday, she said the judge has set a good precedence.
Said Kathewera Banda: “I wish he could serve the sentences consecutively, because what he did was wrong and we cannot condone it.
“The judge has set a precedence, and we must commend him for that. Let us all work together to protect our women and girls. They should not be afraid in their own country. If a parent does that to his children, where will the girls feel safe?”
According to national deputy police spokesperson Peter Kalaya, the country has recorded over 5 000 cases of defilement and rape since 2018; hence, the need for concerted efforts to deal with the problems.
He said: “In 2018 alone, the country recorded 1 539 cases of defilement, 1 766 in 2019 and between January and September 2020, 1 501 cases were recorded. Yet between January and June 2019, a further 106 cases of rape were recorded, and another 105 this year.”
Early this month, President Lazarus Chakwera ordered the Ministry of Homeland Security to lead a task force to deal with matters of defilement and rape.
“As President, I condemn these cases in the strongest terms. It is disturbing to note that across the country, children are being defiled and numbers keep escalating,” he said.
Earlier, a gender and governance expert based at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, Bernadette Malunga said there is need for a coordinated approach to eliminate sexual assaults on children.
“We have clear laws in place, penal and civil laws which if implemented can eliminate sexual violence against children,” she said.
Malunga, who is also a law lecturer, said despite having systems to protect children, they remain defective with the criminal justice system being “corrupt and too slow.”
The recent increase in reported cases of defilement has prompted several gender and governance bodies to protest across the country’s cities, calling on relevant authorities to intervene on the matter.
The Association of Women in Media, a grouping of female journalists, two weeks ago marched in the country’s main cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu with an appeal for authorities to toughen laws on sexual violence as a deterrent to increasing cases of rape and defilement.
In a petition to Minister of Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development Patricia Kaliati, the female scribes demanded a full implementation of legal provisions that protect women and children, stiffer penalties for perpetrators and the trying of such cases in the High Court, as well as the criminalisation of the shielding of offenders.
Section 138(1) of Penal Code gives a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for defilement.