Earlier this week, a report from the South African Police Service (SAPS) made for sad reading. Some Malawians were busted for human trafficking in the North West province.
“On investigation, and during the search,” the report said, “fifty-seven (57) undocumented children aged between eleven (11) and twenty-one (21) years were found in the back of a delivery truck which is without windows. Eighteen (18) of these children are girls (females) while thirty-nine (39) of them are boys (males). These children were transported by the three adult occupants including the driver who are Malawian nationals. These adults could not provide a satisfactory account on the status of all the children. The driver and his two companions were arrested for human trafficking. Further probe has revealed that all children were also Malawian nationals.”
As a nation, we are beyond asking what is driving our people to go to these lengths, ostensibly in search of better opportunities. What we should confront, instead, is our attitude towards young people, especially children, whom we claim to be the future of this country. Do we really mean it when we say so? If we do, then what business do undocumented and unaccompanied minors have being in the back of an unventilated truck, in a foreign country?
The distance between Blantyre and Rustenberg, South Africa’s North West capital is 1,772 kilometres. 1,910 kilometres between Lilongwe and Rustenberg and 2,235 kilometres from Mzuzu. Can you imagine what hell these children were put through just to get to where they were rescued? Also, can you imagine what would have happened to them if they had not been found? More importantly, can you imagine the fate of all children who have been trafficked in this manner and whose whereabouts are not known, except by their captors alone?
Malawi, is this the future we promised our children?
Meanwhile, in the country itself, we are expressing shock and disgust at ‘revelations’ that
harmful cultural practices like fisi and kulowa kufa are still rife. What hypocrisy! We know this happens, and in greater part, we are critical enablers of such practices – either by our encouragement or silence. Hence, we simply have no moral authority to isolate one hyena from the cackle that is Malawi in its entirety. We are all hyenas.
As a way of speaking Truth to our state as a nation, I’ve begun to seek the views of young people regarding their perceptions towards systems that oppress us, especially the poor, marginalised and dispossessed in Malawi. In seeking solutions, we also need to know and understand what exactly we are dealing with.
Natasha Mbalule, a lawyer, kick-starts this initiative with her perceptions how our law in
Malawi upholds Rape culture, by-products of which are malpractices such as fisi and kulowa kufa.
Our society collectively holds problematic views with regard to rape, sexual assault and sexual consent. Discussions on how to avoid rape tend to revolve around instructing girls and women (who are the majority of victims) how not to get raped – dress “decently”, don’t behave “suggestively” and so on – but hardly focus on efforts that teach men (the usual perpetrators) to properly recognize and respect situations in which consent in absent.
Victim blaming is almost an automatic response when a rape allegation is made. The victim’s behaviour is questioned in a bid to find justification for why she deserved such violence. Such problematic attitudes are reflected in our laws and the manner in which sexual violence is prosecuted in Malawi.
Our penal code does not explicitly define “consent” in the context of rape. This allows courts to apply their own problematic conditioning to the analysis of what can constitute consent during prosecution. For example, in one case, a judge didn’t recognize a woman’s rejection of a man’s advances as a lack of consent because women are “pretentious” in sexual situations.
Another problem is the corroboration rule, a relic from our colonial masters, which our legal system continues to hold on to. The rule, which is based on the sexist idea that women are generally liars and unreliable witnesses, places an unusually high evidentiary burden on complainants and does not apply to any other crimes.
Most jurisdictions got rid of the rule long ago but with it still in use in Malawi, our courts tend to approach a complainant’s testimony from the default position of disbelief. The justification for this is that an accuser might be lying. However less than 8% of rape accusations are false whereas a large number of victims are likely to be ostracized if they come forward (one of the reasons why many don’t report sexual violence).
The holes in our legal system, paired with the sexist and patriarchal views of our society makes for an environment in which marginalized members of the population are made even more vulnerable and left with insufficient recourse against a crime which affects them disproportionately.