Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo says his ministry will propose amendments to the Penal Code to make punishments for rape and defilement stiffer.
He said this yesterday during the commemoration of International Human Rights Day, which also marked the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), at Bumba Primary School ground in Rumphi where many speakers, including Vice-President Saulos Chilima, decried worsening GBV cases in the country.
Said Mvalo: “We will propose amendments of the Penal Code to Parliament to make punishments for rape and defilement stiffer and make the sentences mandatory. In law, when you use the word ‘may’, and ‘shall’.
“If you say on conviction a person may be sentenced to so many years, it means there is discretion of the court. It may mete-out the same or lower. But when you use the word ‘shall’, it means that sentence is mandatory. This will help bring sanity.” to so many years, it means there
The minister, who did not specify when he intends to initiate the process, said the ministry will also seek to amend the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Code which provides for procedures to follow on criminal cases in court, so that it provides expediting conclusion of these sexual violence cases.
He added: “At the moment, courts have a discretion in sentencing. What I am saying is that we would like to have a law that makes a sentence or jail term certain. So, it will remove the discretion of a magistrate to sentence lower than the law says.”
The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code will be amended to ensure that cases do not delay, while the Penal Code will have a provision that outlines the exact jail term which every court will be following.
Meanwhile, private practice lawyer George Kadzipatike has argued against the proposal, saying it will deprive courts of their sentencing discretion.
He said: “Cases are not the same, and the courts act based on those differences. The mandatory sentences will be depriving the courts of their sentencing discretion.
“Remember we had the same problem with the death sentence for murder convicts. At first, death sentence was mandatory, but the Constitutional Court later reviewed that.”
Police statistics show that nationwide, 1 440 cases of defilement were recorded between January and October 2019, while 1 738 defilement cases were recorded between January and October 2020.
Speaking during the event, Chilima said the figures are frightening and urged Malawians to change mindsets and attitudes that rationalise, normalise and perpetrate violence and against women and children.
He said: “Everyone should feel safe and protected by the law. Government is equally appalled by these incidents and in responding to queries on such an unprecedented increase.
The tragedy of it all, is that sometimes people that are supposed to be guardians of rights, particularly of vulnerable groups, are the first to violate those rights.”
Human Rights Consultative Committee chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba, who represented all civi l society organisations (CSOs), called for the need to enhance the capacity of the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development to ensure stringent laws against perpetrators of GBV.
In his speech to mark the day, President Lazarus Chakwera said Malawi is among 20 countries globally with the highest incidents of intimate partner violence, which is unacceptable.
He urged people to report violators of women and girls’ rights to the police, and to encourage the victims to do the same.
Said Chakwera: “I am calling on every citizen to partner with the government in waging war against the violation of the rights of women and girls. We must cure our nation of this cancer and exorcise our land of this vile spirit.
“As long as I am President, anyone who dares to violate your rights at home, or at school, or at work, or anywhere, will have me and my entire administration for an enemy.”
In a joint statement yesterday, CSOs Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Youth and Society lamented that Malawi was commemorating the day amid rising cases of rape and defilement.
The CSOs said the grim statistics indicate that Malawi is not doing enough to protect women and girls from sexual violence.
Meanwhile, United Nations (UN) senior human rights adviser Sabina Lauber has said the Malawi Constitution is very strong on human rights, but the challenge was in putting the laws into practice.
“We have many human rights weaknesses and gaps in this country, particularly on inequality of women and girls and violence against women and girls and children.
“So there is much to do, but the Constitution gives us a strong foundation. As we move out of Covid-19, which revealed problems on human rights, we need to recover better than before and we can only do that if we stand up for human rights.”
On his part , Malawi Human Right Commission chairperson the Reverend Patrick Semphere said the commemoration was timely as it accorded Malawi a chance to reflect on how it ensured application of human rights in the context of Covid-19.
The recent increase in reported cases of defilement has prompted several gender and governance bodies to hold protests across the country’s cities, calling on relevant authorities to intervene on the matter.
The offence of defilement which infringes Section 138 (1) of Penal Code is serious in nature and attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Recently, Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda came under heavy criticism for urging people in the country to beat up all perpetrators of sexual violence before handing them over to police.
International Human Rights Day is meant to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated on December 10 1948, and this year’s theme was Recover Better: Stand Up for Human Rights