Malawi using outdated law on rogue and vagabond

Mhango: Need to revisit the Penal Code
Mhango: Need to revisit the Penal Code

A Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) recent study has revealed that there is massive abuse of the outdated provisions in the Penal Code on rogue and vagabond.

Presenting the study findings in Lilongwe on Tuesday, Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango said the study identified gaps in the law and that the poor and marginalised groups such as prostitutes have been unfairly targeted.

“The harsh effects of minor nuisance-related offences are felt most by the poor, who are unfairly targeted by these laws and who do not have easy access to legal representation and family resources once arrested,” said Mhango.

The research was aimed at ascertaining the extent of police enforcement of the rogue and vagabond law and it focused on the arrest practices of Blantyre and Limbe police stations and included interviews with magistrates, police officers and sex workers.

Mhango said there is need to revisit the Penal Code or train the law enforcers on how to implement it.

Project lawyer for Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), Anneke Meerkotter, whose organisation was also part of the research, stressed the need to review some archaic laws which she said are not in tandem with the modern times.

“The Penal Code provisions on rogue and vagabond date back to the English vagrancy laws of previous centuries and they are out of step in the modern constitutional democracy like Malawi,” said Meerkotter.

Deputy Dean of Law at Chancellor College Chikosa Banda said enforcement of the law is subjective.

“That law has got problems because every suspect is presumed innocent and guaranteed human rights, including the right to freedom of movement.

“The fact that you have been seen somewhere loitering around does not in itself mean that you have committed an offence. It might lead to a suspicion that you have committed an offence, but then why should one be arrested on suspicion?” asked Banda.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara welcomed the findings of the research, saying they offer an opportunity to amend the country’s practices.

Section 184 (C) of the Penal Code decsribes a rogue abd vagabond as  every person  found in or upon  or near any premises  or any road or highway or  any place adjacent thereto or in any public place at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly puprpose.—Mana

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