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Law fails to protect children in Malawi

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BLANTYRE — Patrick Martin, (14) and his brother Mayeso (15) are safely home for the moment with their mother and other siblings in Kasonya village, southern Malawi, after they and 12 other children were rescued from being trafficked to neighbouring Mozambique last month by their father.

Report By IPS

Every farming season, people from Phalombe district are taken to the Southern African country of Mozambique to earn their families enough money to buy a bicycle  — which is considered a luxury in a country were 65% of its 16 million people live below the poverty line.

The story of these children is one of many familiar occurrences in Malawi at the moment, as government statistics indicate that at least 1,4 million children are involved in child labour and 20% of them are being trafficked domestically and internationally for the sex industry and illegal adoption.

But the future safety of these boys remains uncertain and they may be forced into child labour again, as out-of-date laws in the country mean that their father will get off with merely a slap on the wrist for his crime.

The country has no human trafficking law and while there is a provision against child trafficking in Section 79 of the Child Care Protection and Justice Act, it is not being correctly implemented.

Their father James Martin will be released from Mulanje Prison after a mere 18 months. He, together with James Banda, Daniel Thumpwa and Dickson Kambewa, was charged for engaging children under 18 in child labour.

They were charged under the Employment Act and not on child trafficking according to Section 79 of the Child Care Protection and Justice Act.

Maxwell Matewere, Eye of the Child executive director, said the country’s laws are making it difficult for organisations and the police to fight against the practice.

“The problem now is that magistrates are not using the Child Care and Protection Justice Act to pass sentences mainly because it is not mandatory and also depends on mitigating factors such as at what level of engagement a child was rescued and his age,” he said.

He said a Zambian man arrested for trafficking children from Dedza (in central Malawi), was released after paying a fine.

Matewere said unless the government has the political will to deal with the root factors of the problem — which he identifies as poverty, unemployment, lack of education and lack of national identification — more children will continue to be trafficked.

Deputy national police spokesman Kelvin Maigwa said between January and August this year, 43 cases of child trafficking were reported, of which numbers were equal between male and female children.

“The reason why these children are being taken away from their homes is because their masters are looking for cheap labour, so they get the children to work in tea and tobacco estates and pay them peanuts because they know they can’t complain.

“The girls are mainly brought to work in prostitution in bars and taverns where they are used to woo customers and sometimes to cut beer packets. They are also employed in domestic work as nannies or housekeepers in cities and towns,” he said.

Herbert Bimphi, chairman of the parliamentary social welfare committee and Democratic Progressive Party legislator for Ntchisi North, said in the absence of a law on human trafficking, the courts will continue passing sentences that are not in line with what is actually happening.

“But the information that I have is that the Law Commission has drafted the Trafficking Persons’ Bill and that now it is at the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs.

“The minister responsible will then bring it to the House so that we can scrutinise it then call on other experts to look at it again, if it is well-written, then we will debate on it and then formally adopt it,” he said.

Gender and Child Welfare minister Anita Kalinde said the Trafficking Persons Bill is being finalised, but that there are other laws on protection of children, which have adequate provisions.

“What needs to be done, however, is the popularisation of the laws through community education of the legal provisions and translating of the Act into local languages so that people can demand their rights,” she said.

Kalinde, however, acknowledged sentences being passed on offenders were not satisfactory and she would have preferred stiffer penalties.

She said the government has put in place mechanisms to help reduce poverty among families who are at risk of engaging in trafficking and child labour.

Phalombe district police spokesman Augustus Nkhwazi said traffickers were illegally crossing into Mozambique easily because no Malawian police officers are stationed at the border post.

“When these people are entering that country they are perceived to be the children’s parents or guardians because people from the two countries have established trade relationships as well as intermarriages.

“As such there is movement across these borders every day,” said Nkhwazi.

Nkhwazi added that the practice is more common now in his district due to poverty, lack of enough farmland and willingness by parents to engage in the practice.

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