Malawi legal experts call for review of archaic ‘Vakabu’ law

Legal experts attending a public debate on the relevance of Vagrancy Laws in Malawi have called on the Law Commission to review the law as it targets the poor.

Commissioner Kainja: We enforce the law

Commissioner Kainja: We enforce the law

The debate, which took place at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe on Friday, pooled together high court judges, lawyers, the police and activists to discuss the Vagrancy Law, otherwise known as vakabu.

Justice Madise:  The law is problematic

Justice Madise: The law is problematic

Panellists to the discussion on vigrancy law

Panellists to the debate on vagrancy law

Delegates discusing vigrancy law

Delegates discusing on vagabond law

Sections 180 to 184 of the Penal Code give Police powers to arrest anyone deemed to he idle and disorderly in a public place.

However, the discretion of determine whether someone is idle and disorderly is left to the police officer.

The police have been known to use the Vagrancy Law to raid drinking places at night where they arrest revellers and commercial sex workers who are in turn abused in cells by cops, according to various published reports.

High Court judge Charles Mkandawire noted that the law is archaic which were suitable in the one-party state.

“But times have changed and there is need to change them to reflect the times we are living in. If the Law Commission is working on reviewing some laws, this law ought to be a priority for them,” he said.

Mkandawire, who is the former registrar of the SADC Tribunal, however cautioned on what should be changed.

“We need to review what is good and what is bad about the law and not just say the law is bad i  it’s entirety,” he said.

On her part, human rights lawyer Chikondi Ngwira said the law is broad and vague.

“This vagueness gives the police the advantage to abuse people’s rights. For instance, when conducting sweeping exercises, you don’t just arrest everyone. Even when you are sweeping a house, you only sweep the dirt and not everything in the house,” she said.

Other panelists during the debate included Mzuzu High Court Judge-in-Charge Dingiswayo Madise, chairman of the Prison Inspectorate Justice Kenan Manda, Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Ruth Chinangwa, Commissioner of Police (South) Dr George Kainja and head of Prosecution at the Police Headquarters Happy Mkandawire.

According to Manda and Chinangwa, convicting people on rogue and vagabond charges only add to the congestion in the prisons.

On his part, Madise says the law is problematic as it does not define who an idle or disorderly person is.

However,  Kainja, while assuring the public that they are guarded by a professional police, said the Police’s hands are tied as long as the law remains in its present form.

“As long as the law remains unchanged, we will continue arresting rogues and vagabonds. Our duty is to enforce the law,” he said.

The Centre for Human  Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), who organised the debate, is running a ‘Decriminalisation of Vagrancy Offences’ project with funding from the Open Society.

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Munthu Ali pa bar akumwa nowa, mukunugwila bwanji poti Ali ndi chochita, chichita ndi mowawooo!! Kenako mumaoempha umozi mukamanidwa basi tiye Ku selo, amphawi inu.


Munthu ali ndi credit wa Chichewa yekha training 6 months mukuti agwire ntchito professionally to my foot.

Kadesh Kadesh

So it means if I’m found at a bus stage in the streets at 11 pm waiting for my dad who is coming back from Lilongwe expected to arrive at 11:30 pm and the police officer(s) present choose not to understand and believe me, I’ll have to be arrested for rogue and vagabond? That’s total madness!


The so called workshop on this matter was a mere income generating event by the Judges who are also known to be corrupt. There are so many stipulations that need review including the so called MPSR which is reflective of neo-colonialism in the civil service


Than you will see gangs of thugs moving around mid night and looting innocent people I am sure the law is OK the way it is now!!!

Paul Vida

Amalimbana ndi m’malo omwera mowa pamene nyumba za wanthu zikuthyoledwa. Stupid police.

paulos banda

Ku Zambia timati shishita, nako agwira.


Zoopsya kwabasi usakoke walakwa eish panyasaland

Max Terrie Abwanamwano
Max Terrie Abwanamwano

The law must be amended for the betterment of malawi. Mbava zoopsa zimayenda pagalimoto koma sizigwidwe koma mphawi ochokera kumowa,kuchibwenzi, osochera komanso ochedwa kozonda matenda.

Vakabu ya amphawi.

Vakabu ndiyimene apolice amapeza podyera, ndichifukwa ngakhare patuluka mfundo zovomera kuti lamuloli silili bwino,komabe iwo akuti ngati silisithidwa iwo apitilizabe kugwira anthu. Apolice achisawawa amadyera mukugwira vakabu pamene a traffic amadyera pogwira ma minbus. Anthuwa ndi mbavaa.

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