Human rights defenders have petitioned the United Nations in a push for government to recognise and safeguard the rights of Malawians born with uncommon sexual organs.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) last Thursday submitted a shadow report decrying that intersex children keep facing numerous violations, including operations to “normalise” them as either boys or girls against their will.
The report, which CHRR and Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) jointly issue every year, bemoans rampant portrayals of children with dualistic sexual organs as malodza (a misfortune) or witches and wizards.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said: “Every year, these reports are shared with government officials, but up to now no action has been taken to protect intersex children.
“To date, there are no legal frameworks in Malawi to protect intersex children from multiple forms of discrimination and violence. Instead of taking legislative, administrative and other measures to protect intersex children, the State Party has moved to deny intersex children their rights.”
His organisation faults President Peter Mutharika for signing the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act (2015) which further sidelines intersex and transgender children by restricting gender to male or female.
Similarly under attack is the the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act which is silent on children whose sexual or gender identity in their later life does not align with that assigned at birth.
The brains at CHRR argue that rigid use of the sex assigned to a person at birth excludes any children whose gender may not fit the conventional perception of male or female.
“Consequently, it is impossible for intersex children in Malawi to change their gender marker in their official documents, if need arise. This constitutes a violation of the children’s right to identity, dignity, and self-determination,” reads the civil society dispatch to Geneva.
The activists accuse government of showing no political will to highlight the plight of intersex Malawians as the State Party report “does not even mention intersex children or the challenges they face in their daily lives”.
Besides facing discriminatory and violent tendencies that pushes them underground, intersex children are widely subjected to non-consensual, harmful surgeries, and other medical interventions.
CHRR urges the UN to ensure government declares the surgeries with “life‐long, rights-violating consequences” as “a harmful practice” similar to genital mutilation.
“Guidelines need to be put in place to guide all public medical facilities on dealing with intersex children and people,” it reads.
They recount the story of Future, a boy born with two organs, who was forced to drop out of primary school following a spate of ridicule and harassment from her peers who discovered she was using a female organ to urinate though she is largely known as a boy.
Lawyer Mandala Mambulasa and Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) director of civil and political rights Peter Chisi recently backed the calls for government to adopt laws and policies that protect sexual minorities from rights violations.
They urged against practices that make the unique group second-class citizens and deny them their rights, saying government has the duty to equip all health facilities for safe operation and give intersex citizens the right to choose the sex that reflects their dominant features and feelings. n