January 18, 2021

Hara Affirms Need to have Support Systems for Rape Victims in Rural Areas

The Speaker of Parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara, said there is need to have social support system in villages for that is where most of the hard crimes are being committed during a meeting with Women Judges Association of Malawi (WOJAM) on: Improving Women’s Access to Justice held in Lilongwe on Tuesday.

In her sentiments, Hara said it is not just about having someone who can support, for even those that are the immediate family should also be able to act as a support system.

Hara added that after getting justice in cases, it is important to talk to the victim in terms of how they think and how they will move on because this will determine if the person who has abused them being given 15 or 20 years is enough, for that is part of their healing process.

In an interview, she said they have been concentrating on making sure that those that have been raped, abused or defiled should get justice but they are not thinking beyond the justice. They also need to be looking at how they survive in the community and how they survive in the same school in a situation where a girl child has been defiled or raped by their teacher. This was with reference to an instance where the only access to a school in the poor villages of Chitipa is that particular school.

“It’s not going to be easy for that child to go back to school,” Hara said.

She remarked that there are a number of gaps in the existing law and some have not yet been implemented, as there are some laws that are clear on what should happen but implementation is not done.

Hara emphasized that the laws of child protection, child abuse and gender based violence need to be translated into local languages for those that cannot understand English and that every Member of Parliament should provide civic education to his or her constituents.

The vice president of WOJAM, Jean Kayira, said they have noted that when presiding over cases of gender-based violence, they noticed that a number of people who go to court travel long distances. For example, in Usisya, Nkhatabay if people want to access the courts, they will have to either drive a long distance down to Mzuzu or use the lake for them to travel to court. In Machinga for instance, those who have been defiled or sexually abused

at Nanyumbu, has the magistrate travelling a long distance to their area.

She mentioned that the other challenge is infrastructure as the courts are not gender responsive. In criminal cases, matters are heard in open courts though the law allows the judges to exercise their discretion where the victim is to testify to exercise and they can do so in the absence of members of the open court. This is due to the fact that if the case has been heard in an open court some members of the public will find it easy to identify and stigmatize the victim and this is not supposed to be the case. The victim’s details are supposed to remain confidential to ensure that the child is not be mentioned in 10 or 11 years later as a victim at that tentative time as it would affect their development and relationship with other people.

Every day women and girls are being sexually abused and in 2020 the highest rate of 237 cases were recorded in October versus 182 cases in January. Lilongwe recorded 234 cases whilst Ntcheu recorded 56 sexually assault cases against children (defilement). There were 1,293 cases in 2018, 1440 in 2019, and 1738 cases in 2020, in January 2020 23 women were raped and the number has gone up to 60 women in October 2020.

By Thokozani Kachingwe

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