A majority of Malawians have approved the enactment laws which criminalise witchcraft, the Afrobarometer survey has established.
This consolidates the findings of the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Witchcraft Act in Malawi, which also recommended acknowledgement of witchcraft existence.
The latest Afrobarometer survey report which was presented in Lilongwe on Thursday shows that 74 percent of the citizenry perceive that witchcraft exists.
However, a human rights campaigner has warned that the country should tread carefully if it does adopt criminalisation of witchcraft as it may lead to victimisation of innocent people.
Presenting the Afrobarometer report on witchcraft, Edister Jamu, head of Psychology in the Faculty of Social Science at University of Malawi, said the survey revealed that most Malawians associate witchcraft with the use of magic to kill people, make them sick, or bring them misfortune.
Breaking down the findings, the survey report reads in part: “Three in four Malawians [74 percent] believe “a lot” in the existence of witchcraft. Only 14 percent say it doesn’t exist. Educated citizens [82 percent) are more likely to believe in the existence of witchcraft than those with no formal education (71 percent).
“More than six in 10 Malawians (63 percent) say that in their communities, elderly people are most often associated with witchcraft,” he said.
But the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation executive director Michael Kaiyatsa said although the findings justify the need for laws to acknowledge the existence of witchcraft, challenges would emerge in proving cases.
“A law that is not consistent with people’s beliefs is considered foreign. On criminalising witchcraft, however, much as we say it is good, it will be hard to prove. What it means is that those accused of practising witchcraft will face criminal charges.
“The fear which we have is: How fair will the system be? It is the good practice of law that for somebody to be convicted the prosecution might have proved beyond reasonable doubt. How is that going to be in witchcraft cases as we know it is done through supernatural powers?” he queried.
However, in his contribution director of law reforms at Malawi Law Commission Mike Chinoko, has calmed the lack of evidence fears, pointing out that there are proposed provisions which will prosecute the accused through self-confessions.
“There is direct evidence where you perceive you either see it or you hear. So, if one says I am a witch that is not going to be difficult to prove. “Another one is someone exercising acts of witchcraft. Is this difficult to prove? And when someone is in possession of instruments related to witchcraft, is it difficult to prove?” he asked.