Sexual violence continues to be problematic in Malawi. There is a harrowing video clip that is making rounds on social media of a rape victim who is writhing on the floor in apparent agony. Sitting next to the victim, whose skirt is drenched in blood, is her alleged attacker who gets a mouthful from those present at the scene.
In a recent court case in Mangochi, a man was sentence to eight years in prison after being convicted of defiling a minor. At sentencing on October 30, 2020, the accused had the gall to ask the court for a bit of leniency, saying he was a first offender.
From Counterjab‘s vantage point, the punishment Malawi metes out to those who commit rape pales in comparison to other countries that don’t go easy on rapists, with the exception of countries like France where it’s 3 years to life imprisonment. The punishment for rape in France is remarkably like other Western countries. Let’s take a quick, random look elsewhere: In Israel, it’s 16 years to life in jail. It’s life in jail or death in India. In Egypt and Iran, it’s death by hanging. Saud Arabia beheads rapists while North Korea executes them by firing squad. And finally, in China, it’s death or castration.
In Malawi, according to the Penal Code Act, 2011, art. 138 (1): Any person who carnally knows any girl under the age of 16 shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable to life imprisonment.
So, if Malawians decided to change and wanted capital punishment instead, as is the case in Saud Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and others, is there a reason to believe that it would be applied in rape cases? Although it’s still on the books, Malawi doesn’t carry out the death penalty. A death sentence is an automatic life imprisonment, thanks to the new democratic order post one party system of government that ended in 1994 after 30 years. But this type of punishment for rape has been gathering dust yet this heinous crime continues to be committed.
Can Malawians then demand that the courts start giving life sentences? Certainly, but what they must also understand is that a life sentence doesn’t necessarily mean the convict will spend the rest of their natural life in jail. After a period of jail time, convicted persons can find themselves back in society. And good luck thinking prison reforms rapists! What this means, unfortunately, is that society still needs guard rails to protect innocent women and children from the predators once set free. What kind of extra protections then could be put in place for a lasting solution?
Enter “kuthena” — this is sterilization, castration, or neutering — which is a procedure by surgical or chemical means. It’s designed to kill lust. Unlike in China where it’s either death or castration for the offender, the destruction of the abuser’s sexual desire in Malawi would spare his life; but whether the abuser spent just a day in prison or sent away for eight years as the court did in Mangochi, the rapist wouldn’t hurt another soul, ever!
Malawi society must know that because of what’s been happening to innocent girls, there are many – victims and their loved ones – who are suffering in silence and seething with anger. And anger can be a powerful motivating force. The anger – and this is good anger – that is felt by those who care about these and related issues, should, by all means, be channeled in a positive direction to find allies like the outspoken Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, to lend some gravity. Yes, the minister’s powerful pronouncements against sexual assault generate discourse in public places and behind closed doors, but it shouldn’t end there.
Magistrates courts, where light sentences are given to sexual predators, aren’t doing their damnedest to protect children thus they should be pushed to act responsibly. These courts have so far shown to be a stain on the Malawi judiciary at a time its High Court is establishing itself as the custodian of democracy. The High Court, which stands unopposed as the most trusted and influential institution in the country, ought to be concerned about what is happening in the lower courts.
Can the courts change? Yes, they can. But if they choose to drag their feet, they need to be reminded, day in, day out, that punishment has the following purposes: justice, discouragement, rehabilitation, and compensation. Meanwhile, to grab the attention of molesters, the fear of god must be put in them which entails the abusers permanently losing their ability to function sexually. Lawmakers, how about “kuthena”?