Ministry of Justice says it is exploring the possibility of having a mandatory life sentence exacted on sexual offenders following a recent Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal ruling which outlawed the death penalty.
Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo said in Rumphi on Saturday that government is undertaking consultations to review relevant legal provisions to fast-track the disposal of such cases of sexual violence to ensure stiffer mandatory penalties against convicts.
He said: “The law is not too bad as it is. Like rape carries a maximum sentence of death or life
Mvalo: The law is not too bad is convicted of rape, they are liable to life imprisonment or death. Maybe what we need to do is to make those sentences mandatory.
“In law, liable means you can be or not be, but we have to make it mandatory. We know that there is an outcry against death sentence by human rights groups, so what we can do is to make life in jail a mandatory sentence.”
Mvalo said the recent Supreme Court judgement, which said the death sentence was against the Constitution, is more binding on government, indicating that it means the death penalty might at some point be abolished.
He said: “Law reform is an exercise that takes long because when you reform a law, you must relate it to others as well to avoid conflict of laws. The exercise is still ongoing. We need to engage stakeholders.”
The minister said the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code will be amended to ensure that cases do not delay while the Penal Code, on the other hand, will have provisions that outline the exact number of years for imprisonment which every court will be following.
Mvalo was speaking at a function where the European Union (EU) handed over a Victim Support Unit (VSU) at Rumphi Police Station constructed under the Chilungamo Project.
During the function, it was revealed that between January and May this year, 991 defilement cases have been registered compared to 810 cases during the same period last year.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (Administration) Merlyn Yolamu said the upsurge of sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) cases was worrisome.
She admitted that police have been grappling with ensuring that rights for the victims are protected.
Yolamu said only few district police stations have worthwhile structures that provide VSU; hence, most of the VSUs operate under makeshift structures, including transit shelters, old office blocks, tents and some under a tree shade.
She said: “On the rise of these cases, I wouldn’t say we are failing to handle them because in our view, the rising is a result of a lot of sensitisation that has taken place and people are aware that the police is going to provide the necessary service.
“What we are seeing is a lot of people reporting at our stations to have the necessary services that they want to have unlike in the past.”
EU Delegation to Malawi chargé d’affaires Aurelie Valtat has since asked the police to be trustworthy to enable victims of GBV and other sexual offences easily approach them.
She said that to ensure that people access the services and cases are handled professionally, there is need for collective efforts. She called for the full rollout of the Spotlight Initiative designed to help deal with violence against women and girls.
Said Valtat: “We have to look at GBV in a holistic way, looking at perpetrators and victims is one side, but we have also to look at societal context. This is where the Spotlight Initiative is very important because the cultural norms, habits and the way that people think they should be behaving can generate GBV.”
Under the Chilungamo Project, the EU has provided support for the rehabilitation of VSUs in 10 selected police formations. Four of them located at Jali in Zomba, Malomo in Ntchisi, Chikwawa and Rumphi have been completed.
Vice-President Saulos Chilima is on record as having said that rape and defilement statistics were frightening and alarming, urging the citizenry to change mindset and attitudes that rationalise, normalise, and perpetrate violence against women and children.
He said: “Everyone should feel safe and be protected by the law.”
In its 2020 Country Human Rights Report for Malawi, the United States of America Department of State identifies thorny and recurring issues, including lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women.
While the law prohibits harmful social, cultural, or religious practices, including widow cleansing and widow inheritance, the report notes that in some areas, some widows were being forced to have sex with male in-laws while in other cases, widows were being inherited.
Statistics from Malawi Police Service show that 1 440 cases of defilement were recorded between January and October 2019 and 1 738 defilement cases between January and October 2020.