Written by Yamikani Yapuwa, Mana
Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) has expressed satisfaction with the sentencing of a catholic priest who sexually abused a 15-year-old girl.
Zomba Senior Residence Magistrate Court on Thursday sentenced Father Numeri Mweta of Lisanjala Parish under Zomba Diocese to 17 years in jail for defiling the girl.
YONECO Executive Director MacBain Mkandawire said the court judgment is a huge achievement for Malawi as it comes just a few weeks after the Vatican conference on child sexual abuse in Catholic Church.
“YONECO reported the case to police after receiving a complaint from the father of the victim at its Tithandizane Helpline.
“We are happy that the case has been concluded and justice has been granted to the victim after fighting a long battle with the priest,” Mkandawire said.
He applauded the police for being helpful and prosecution team for being on top “even though they were relaxing in the beginning.”
“The journey was long and challenges were many including delaying tactics by the defence, cost of getting the witnesses and the mafia approach by the priest.
“The fact that police took time to arrest Father Mweta was very challenging,” Mkandawire said.
He added that the country needs stiffer punishment for the offenders as well as increased community level child protection as the extent of abuse to minors by people the society trusts is worrisome.
NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO GCN) Child Rights Committee Chairperson Alice Bwanausi also commended the court for the jail term.
“The arm of the law should not spare anyone. Moreover, men of cloth should be trusted by our communities and especially our children,” Bwanausi said.
The prosecuting officer had earlier asked the court to impose a stiff punishment to the accused arguing that as a priest, Mweta was supposed to be preaching about child protection.
In mitigation, defence counsel Timothy Chirwa asked the court for a lenient sentence saying the convict was a first-time offender.
He added that Mweta got consent to have sex from the girl who had reached puberty, therefore, mature.
The defence added that the girl had no injury in her anatomy, was once married and not a virgin, therefore, fit to accommodate a man.
“[Again] Mweta should be tried as any other ordinary Malawian regardless of his status as a priest,” the defence counsel said.
However, Senior Resident Magistrate Rodrick Michongwe said the aggravating factors like pregnancy, interference with the case by the accused and the age of the convict outweighed the mitigation factors laid by the defence.
“The girl’s future in terms of education has been ruined as the convict’s conduct made her to stay out of school since July 2018 and this has long-term consequences.
“The accused has also been interfering with the case and this shows that he wanted to defeat justice as he also once attempted to corrupt police officers.
“Further, the accused also showed no remorse during the whole trial as he kept denying the case even when faced with evidence,” Michongwe said.
More than 100 senior Roman Catholic bishops from around the world gathered last month in Rome a summit called by Pope Francis to address clerical sexual abuse in the church.