Malawi has removed nearly 270 minors from two adult prisons, a legal action group said on Wednesday, following a court ruling and warnings about food shortages, disease risk and overcrowding.
The move came after a High Court ruling in June 2018 which ordered Bvumbwe and Kachere prisons to release all children being held there in a case brought by civil society organisations.
Victor Mhango of the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance said all 267 juveniles who were being held at the two jails had been released.
“The welfare of children in prison has always been a serious matter of concern. Our laws have recognised that prisons are not suitable for children,” he said.
Malawi only has two juvenile reform centres, which are often full.
The court ordered that children awaiting trial should be transferred to remand homes, and those found guilty should be transferred to reform homes within 30 days.
Where there was an absence of remand homes, the children were released into the custody of their parents.
Judiciary spokesperson Agnes Patemba told AFP that the prison service had complied with the law.
In its 2016 report, the Inspectorate of Prisons said Kachere prison was “a health disaster” waiting to happen with inmates going days without food, poor hygiene standards, a shortage of blankets and the buildings themselves at risk of collapse.
It said cells in Bvumbwe prison were poorly ventilated and the toilets had no running water.
“This case sets an important precedent for our region,” said Anneke Meerkotter, of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.