When reports emerged of some political parties encouraging children to register for national identities (IDs) with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) ahead of the June 23 2020 court-sanctioned Fresh Presidential Election, cries from the public and rights activists fell on deaf ears.
Malawi Congres Pary (MCP) director of Information and Technology Daud Suleman, speaking on TTV alleged that children aged below 16 had been given NRB identity card numbers, something that raised suspicion.
The media quoted Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chair Gift Trapence, querying NRB for allegedly allowing children below 18 to register.
Nonetheless, little did people realise such political idiocy would return to haunt girls’ rights sooner than later.
Imagine the predicament hanging over Ajese Galimoto of Traditional Authority Mkanda in Mulanje whose 15-year-old daughter was coerced by a 19-year-old man into marriage and today the girl is expectant.
“My daughter ran away from home to cohabitate with a man at Mandolo Village. While arranging to bring her back police, social welfare and Youth Net and Counselling [Yoneco] officials came and took them both to the Boma.
“When the matter went to court, my daughter produced her ID, which showed she had been registered as 17, but in actual fact she is 15. She has missed her menses and we believe she is pregnant,” Galimoto said.
She said she doesn’t know what happened for her daughter to be registered as a 17-year-old by NRB, something that has prevented her from getting justice.
The girl in an interview said the man bought her a price of cloth (chitenje) after their relationship began in January this year.
“I want to continue with my education and become a police officer. I hardly chat with my peers because they laugh at me, saying I was running away from the cold when I went to stay with the man,” she said.
Asked how she got registered when she was a minor she said the NRB officers only asked for her mother’s ID but did not stop her from registering.
Noel Chambo, Mulanje assistant social welfare officer, said the case is a third one to surface since NRB’s ID exercise was conducted in which minors were registered as adults.
“Yoneco local structures alerted police who arrested and charged the suspect with defilement based on the information that she was 15. However evidence in court in form of national ID showed the contrary, prompting Senior Resident Magistrate Bakili to discharge the case,” Chambo said.
He said registration of minors as adults hampers social work of protecting vulnerable children because most defilement cases which would have acted as a deterrent to would-be offenders are thrown out for lack of concrete evidence.
Even Mulanje Police spokesperson Gresham Ngwira said issues of age cheating derail legal proceedings in defilement cases and the fight against teenage marriages.
“Age cheating defeats the whole purpose of fighting gender-based violence as defilement cases are being dismissed upon production of documentary evidence in form of IDs. Cases of defilement in Mulanje have worsened as only in May we recorded over 48 cases of GBV and 33 cases of teenage pregnancies, Ngwira said.
Norman Fulatira, NRB publicist, however dismissed the allegation, saying no ID has been processed from the registration exercise in mention.
“The assertion of defilement because of national ID in this case does not arise. It could be because of other reasons,” he said.
Non-Governmental Organisation Gender Coordination Network (NGOGCN) chair Barbara Banda says defilement is a serious criminal offence in Malawi and guardians should safeguard girls and report any suspected or proven cases to authorities.
“As chairperson of NGOGCN we will not rest until our mandate and passion for the full self-actualization of girls’ rights is realised. We will keep an eye on the issue to gain ground of the detailed facts,” Banda said.
Mlomba Primary School head teacher Gillion Kamoto testifies the girl was at the school and a Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) scholarship beneficiary who received exercise books, textbooks, school uniform and shoes and sanitary pads.
McBain Mkandawire Yoneco executive director whose organisation with funding from Oxfam implements the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) project said registering children as adults deprives them of their childhood and the social services accorded them.
“If a child who is 15 has been registered as an adult it means when she is sexually abused we can’t pursue a case for defilement nor can we talk about child marriage. Those child registrations mean we cannot protect the abused children because the courts will perceive them as adults.
“The Child Justice Act puts the responsibility of looking after a child on everyone in contact with the child. Those who registered children should be taken to task for robbing the children of their childhoods,” Mkandawire said.
Malawi outlaws child marriages and the New Marriage Acts prescribes the marriage age as 18.
He said as a country we have gone so low with our morals to reach the extent of using children to fulfill political aspirations.