Prison Terms Double in Malawi Rape, Sexual Abuses Cases, Say Local Media 

Courts in Malawi have started imposing stiffer penalties on perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse. The move is seen as a response to calls from various rights campaigners who have been lamenting lenient sentences given to offenders. Though excited, rights campaigners say more needs to be done.Statistics from the Malawi Police Service show that recorded cases of rape in the country have more than doubled since 2018.Figures from the National Statistics Office show that for the last three months of this year alone, sexual abuse cases have been 35 percent higher than the same period last year.Rights campaigners blame the rise on lenient penalties given to the perpetrators.Now, local media are noting a sudden trend toward longer prison terms for those convicted of rape and sexual abuse. They say the average sentence has jumped from 10 years to 20, with some perpetrators getting life imprisonment.For example, a high court in Lilongwe last week sentenced a 30-year-old man to life imprisonment for raping a 10-year-old girl and infecting her with HIV. This came a week after a court in Blantyre sentenced 42-year old man to 20 years in jail for raping his stepdaughter. She too was infected with HIV. Barbara Banda is head of the Gender Coordination Network, an NGO which has been holding protests against rising cases of gender-based violence.“We are happy that we have gotten into this level where we can see the biggest punishment that can be given by the courts. But what is worrying is that we continue to see the cases surface every day which means that these sentences are not a complete deterrent to addressing increased GBV and defilement,” she said.Banda said the focus on should be changing mindsets that can cause sexual abuses. Some Malawians falsely believe that having sex with a minor can cure HIV or will somehow bring great wealth.Justice Zione Ntaba is a judge at the High Court of Malawi and the national program coordinator for the Women Judges Association of Malawi or WOJAM.WOJAM has partnered with other organizations to sponsor traveling courts, so people can see justice being carried out with their own eyes.She believes this is important to deterring sexual crimes.“Apart from stiffer sentences, the biggest issue for us in terms of crime reduction is ensuring that justice is seen when the crime is done, because that is what actually changes people’s mindset. It is the aspect of seeing a person who has committed a crime go through the system and get convicted, and that will bring mindset change,” she said.Justice Ntaba said she also thinks rising cases of sexual abuse can also be reduced by investing in crime prevention measures.Malawi’s Ministry of Gender said it has partnered with various organizations including Malawi Police Service in a national awareness campaign against sexual abuse and gender based violence. 

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