Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), have come out strongly to condemn the alleged sexual exploitation and abuse of a child by Lilongwe gay man, Kelvin Gonani.
It was reported that Gonani had been subjected to a homophobic beating in Lilongwe by some unknown assailants. However, an investigation by the two organizations reveals that contrary to the media reports, Gonani was not beaten because of his sexual orientation; rather he was beaten by some members of the Lilongwe gay community for offering his nephew for prostitution.
“CHRR and CEDEP would like to emphasise that the alleged sexual abuse and exploitation of the child in Gonani’s care is an extremely serious and worrisome accusation and it is crucial that this case is thoroughly and urgently investigated by relevant authorities”, reads a statement co-signed by the directors of the two institutions, Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence.
“Much as we are interested in the promotion of equal rights and social justice in Malawi, we at CHRR and CEDEP do not condone any sexual abuse of children. This is why we are calling for Mr. Gomani to be promptly investigated and, if it is established that he indeed sexually exploited the child, he must be prosecuted. Sexual abuse of children is not only illegal in this country but is also unacceptable and should not be condoned or go unpunished.”
The two organizations say that “sexual abuse of children is not only illegal in this country but is also unacceptable and should, therefore, not be condoned or go unpunished.”
CHRR and CEDEP, however, clarify that sexual abuse of children has nothing to do with gay rights.
“Gay rights concern consensual sex between adults. In other words, none of the people involved are below the legal age for having sex, and all of them agree to what they are doing. Forced sex (rape) and sex with children (defilement) both violate the sexual rights of the victim, whether the perpetrator is of the same or opposite sex as the victim,” reads the statement.
Furthermore, the organizations urge the Malawi society to do more to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, arguing that sexual abuse of children “is a sickness that still clings to our society like a malignant cancer despite widespread campaigns to end the practice.”
“Almost every day there are reports in the media of children being sexually abused by adults, often close relatives who are expected to give them love and protection and not to abuse them. While some of the offenders are brought to court to face legal action, the sickening reality is that many others go unpunished and continue to molest innocent children. There is no excuse for this appalling behaviour.
“As a people we must stop this sick behaviour in its tracks. It is completely unacceptable that innocent children should be turned into sex objects by shameless adults who cannot control their lust, which is why we call for stiffer penalties to be meted out to people who are found guilty of such acts.
CHRR and CEDEP then fault section 138(1) of the Penal Code, which excludes defilement of boy children, saying that this provision is one-sided and hence needs to be reviewed.
“We have said it in many different forums that the law in its current state is one-sided. While the maximum sentence for child sex abuse in the Penal Code of Malawi is a life imprisonment, the Penal Code has made the mistake of assuming that only girls can be victims of sexual abuse or defilement,” the organizations argue in their statement.
The said provision, section 138(1) of the Malawi Penal Code, reads: “Any person who unlawfully and carnally knows any girl under the age of thirteen years shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable to imprisonment for life, with or without corporal punishment.”
According to CHRR and CEDEP, this section does not discuss the issue of sexual abuse of male children, making this country a virtual paradise for those who sexually abuse boy children.
The two organizations hope that government, and all relevant authorities, will take seriously the allegation of sexual abuse of the child in Gonani’s care.
“The law must always place the safety of children as its priority. A child who has suffered sexual abuse is robbed of their life, their dignity and all opportunities of living a “normal” life,” reads the statement.
The two organizations also appeal to the Lilongwe District Social Welfare “to consider the best interest of this child and possibly reallocate him so as to protect him from further abuse and ensure that he receives the redress to which he is entitled.”
Gonani was beaten up last weekend by fellow gay men who were trying to protect the 9-year-old boy from being sexually exploited.
While praising them for rescuing the child, CHRR and CEDEP condemn the gay men who assaulted Gonani for taking the law into their own hands, saying mob justice is illegal in Malawi.
“If anyone has reason to believe that an individual has committed a crime, we encourage that individual to report to the nearest police station or relevant authority. No one has the right to lynch or abuse any suspected criminal. Every criminal suspect has a right to fair trial in a court of competent jurisdiction as enshrined in the Malawi Constitution,” say the two organizations.
Same-sex practices are illegal in Malawi under the Penal Code sections 153, 156, and 137A.
However, activists say these laws should be repealed because they fuel homophobia, they are against international human rights treaties to which Malawi is party to and above all they are unconstitutional, a stance opposed by a majority of Malawians.
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