Malawi’s judiciary bites sex offenders hard, activists want more

Women march

In Malawi, protests against sex offenders not getting the stiffest of punishments for their heinous acts were growing deafeningly loud.

Women’s groups including those of female journalists, women lawyers, female medical practitioners and women’s rights activists took to the streets to call for a stop.

"We have written about these ills and used our platforms to raise awareness about the escalating levels and the need to find a lasting solution. We acknowledge the fact that in some cases perpetrators have been prosecuted but obviously the punishments have not been a deterrent to other offenders," wrote the Association of Women in Media in Malawi in its petition

On some of the placards they carried during the marches, were extreme messages, such as “castrate them”, of course that is illegal in Malawi, but it spoke of the levels of exasperation, the sense of danger that women and girls felt they were in.

But over the past couple of weeks the courts, appear to have hearkened the cry and  have meted out stiff punishments to sex offenders meant to deter other would be offenders.

Some four recent High Court rulings, mostly reviews of lower rulings have seen judges  hammering out stiff punishments.

"The Court procedure is such that in criminal cases, the judgements of lower courts are sent to the High Court for review. The Magistrate Courts have limited jurisdiction in terms of the sentences they can mete out while the High Court doesn’t and it is at liberty to hand out very high sentences should it see fit, it’s why you see the High Court increasing the sentences because it’s of the view that the circumstances are so grave that they necessitate a higher sentence.

"We are always happy to see such sentences being handed down and we look at it as justice taking it’s course. While it’s a welcome development, we never get complacent and we know that there is still much work to be done when it comes to violence against women and girls," said Women Lawyers Association of Malawi spokesperson Atupele Masanjala in an interview with Kulinji.com.

Habiba Osman
Osman: We call upon the judiciary to ensure pronouncement of stiffer punishments

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has also commended the judiciary for the rulings in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“We highly commend the path the judiciary is taking towards pronouncing gender responsive judgements as judicial decisions have both an individual and a collective power in giving meaning to the rule of law.

“We, therefore call upon the judiciary to ensure pronouncement of stiffer punishments for all sexual offences as a strategic intervention within the hierarchy of the judicial system in a bid to deter other would be offenders,” wrote MHRC executive secretary Habiba Osman.

MHRC has since extended its call to other relevant players to ensure that applicable laws are enforced to protect women and girls from sexual violence, to hold perpetrators accountable and to support for the victims.