Is Malawi lenient on rape or defilement perpetrators?

By Joseph Chikalipo-Mana

Countless awareness campaigns have been carried across the nation, the media has brought to light numerous cases, punitive sentences have been delivered; nevertheless, rape and defilement cases are rapidly on the rise.

Much as any citizen is capable of breaking the law, it is astounding to learn that well educated people are the major culprits behind these cases.

Recently, a senior administrator of Medical Aid Society of Malawi, made headlines for wrong reasons when he was arrested for defiling and infecting his 16-year-old niece with HIV.

It is more appalling to note that some of our men in uniform, who are entrusted to enforce the law, are spearheading this shameful act of rape and defilement.

In 2019, shocking revelations indicated that, a lot of women in Msundwe, Mpingu and M’bwatalika, were sexually harassed by the police during the post-election demonstrations.

Hitherto, the offenders are yet to be brought to book despite numerous interventions by some sectors including the Office of the Ombudsman and Malawi Women Lawyers Association.

Regardless of circumstances which might lead one to commit rape, there will never be a justification for this atrocity.

So, where is the flaw in as far as curbing this challenge is concerned? Arguably, it isnot a simple task to pinpoint the causal factor.Perhaps, we can presumably look into the chief solution; our justice system.

There have been propositions that maybe some of the punishments are not enough; therefore, more has to be done.

For instance, in early November this year, the Association of Women in Media (AWOME) demonstrated in various cities of Malawi calling for stringent measures against sexual offenders.

Shortly before delivering the petition, AWOME-Lilongwe Chapter Chairperson, Josephine Phumisa highlighted to the gathering some alternative plans which would be undertaken if their demands are not met.

“We have noticed that some of these rapists are getting lenient sentences. Owing to this, we will push for the revision of some laws so that these perpetratorsshould be punished severely” She said.

One of the notable participants at the demonstration was the Speaker of the National Assembly, Catherine Gotani Hara, who said that the issue was getting out of hand and it has to be handled constitutionally as a last resort.

“The laws and punishments are there but we need harmonisation of Child Justice Act and Penal because in some cases we are confined to punishing child defilers yet someone who raped a woman goes unpunished.”

“This will include punishing those that try to hide these unpleasant practices,” she said

Interestingly, during the demonstration, a number of women were sighted carrying controversial placards with radical calls for castration and life imprisonment sentences.

Some quarters might argue that these two suggested solutions are so extreme.

Instead, the offenders should be slapped with a great deal of years in prison.

In September,2020, a 42- year-old man was sentenced to 15 years in jail with hard labour for defiling his 12-year-old daughter.

For instance, 15 years might seem like a long time but in the face of the victim, it is far from enough.

To put things into perspective, think about the previously mentioned 16-year-old girl defiled by her uncle consequently infecting her with HIV.

The physiological scarof HIV will always be a constant reminder of traumatic her childhood was.

As the great philosopher Hippocrates believed, “desperate times call for desperate measures”. This famous quote translates that in adverse circumstances, actions that might have been rejected under other circumstances may become the best choice to be undertaken.

That being the case, castration and life imprisonment would be ideal. They are two different solutions but they both present a chance to find a long lasting solution to this problem.

The first recommendation, castration: there are several forms such as physical, chemical or hormonal castration. For reference, let’s comprehensively look at chemical castration.

Simply put,chemical castration involves administering drugs such as Diethylstilbestrolto reduce libido and sexual activity.

In 1981, in an experiment by P. Gagne, 48 males with long-standing histories of sexually deviant behavior were given Medroxyprogesterone acetate and 40 of those were recorded as to have diminished desires for deviant sexual behavior, less frequent sexual fantasies and greater control over sexual urges.

According to the experiment, the method seems to work so why should we stick to approachesthat have been implemented yet the problem still grows like a cancer?

A number of countries such as Argentina, Australia and the UK have adopted this and some like India are in the drafting stage of the law and Malawi can do that too.

The second recommendation, life imprisonment, is the concise punishment for keeping one in prison until the last breath.

The two recommendations would curb this problem in two vital ways if implemented.

Firstly, it will directly minimize chances of perpetrators repeating the offence because their sexual feelings are suppressed or locked away for the rest of their life.

Secondly, this would deter potential offenders once the new legislations have been imposed on rapists and defilers.

Before ones become critical of these measures, they should keep in mind that rape or defilementcan happen to anyone. A question might be; if it happened to their daughters or wives even their mothers, would they still hold their ground that these measures are extreme? That is very unlikely!

We should keep in mind that the adoption of these measures is not necessarily to punish but rather maintain law and order.

All factors considered, the suggested solutions are not as extreme as they seem if they are for the the greater good.

Summarily, choices have consequences and if you commit a sex offence you need to own it and take responsibility for it.

Just a friendly reminder, “you reap what you sow.”

About Augustine Muwotcha

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