Although every child deserves parents or guardians to look after him or her, not every couple ought to have a child or a ward.
Too unrealistic as it may sound, some couples and guardians are straight from the shoulder way beyond parenthood.
The story of 67-year-old Beaton Phambala from Helineki Village, Senior Chief Chikumbu in Mulanje is a vivid example that not every grown-up deserves parenthood or guardianship.
In February this year, Phambala offered for sale his 15-year-old nephew to a certain businessperson at Mwanakhu Trading Centre for K1.2 million.
The long and the short of it is that the businessperson tipped the chief and community police members who caught Phambala red-handed while he was negotiating the deal in the businessperson’s house.
Mulanje Police Station spokesperson Gresham Ngwira, says Phambala was charged with Child Trafficking which contravenes Section 79 of Child Care, Protection and Justice Act. No. 22 (2010) and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
According to Ngwira, cultural beliefs, poverty and lack of capacity building to realise that they are being abused are some of the reasons for the escalation of gender-based violence (GBV) and child abuse cases in Mulanje.
“The culture of silence in Mulanje is horrifying because many abused women and children do not come out to expose the abuses. As such, the abuses just go on and on,” he says.
Mulanje is one of the districts with the highest rate of GBV and child abuse cases in the country. In 2016 alone, the district registered over 400 GBV cases.
Although this is the case, capacity of police officers, child protection workers, the Judiciary and health personnel to handle such cases is limited, mainly due to inadequate resources and lack of skills.
The problem is further exacerbated by poor coordination and collaboration among police, district social welfare office and district health office (DHO).
It is on this backdrop that Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) partnered Christian Aid with funding from Global Fund to implement a Comprehensive Action for Adolescents Girls and Young Women (AGYW) Project in Mulanje.
Blessings Sabao, Yoneco AGYW project coordinator, says his organisation wants to equip police officers, health personnel and child protection workers with skills and knowledge in GBV case management and filing and knowledge of gender-related laws that protect girls and young women.
“Coincidentally, prevalence of HIV and Aids in Mulanje is above 20 percent and the most infected are young women and girls,” he says, adding: “We know GBV, child abuse cases such as defilement, rape and incest significantly contribute towards the spread of HIV and Aids.”
Sabao says there are knowledge gaps in terms of service provision to victims of abuse by stakeholders, hence, they also oriented them on the legal instruments available which protect children from various forms of abuse.
Section 3 (1) (b) of the Child Protection and Justice Act says it is parental duty to protect children from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, oppression and exposure to physical, mental, sexual and moral hazards.
Mulanje third grade magistrate Mifa Chinkudzu-Kaumphawi says child labour, sexual abuse, early and forced marriages and banning of medical care to children by some faith groupings are common forms of abuses to children.
“A child has the right to express his/her opinion freely while parents have joint responsibility for raising children and the state is obliged to help,” she says.
Chinkudzu-Kaumphawi says any violence within a relationship affects the child in one way or another and results in impaired self-esteem, decreased empathy, anxiety and depression, emotionally constricted and inhibited behaviour, irritability, aggressive or antisocial behaviour culminating in problems in school and fear of adults.
Noel Chambo, a child protection officer in the Mulanje district social welfare office says apart from sexual abuses, non-accidental injuries (NAI) are rampant in the district.
“Within the last six months our office has recorded 18 defilement cases, 39 cases of physical abuses and 60 cases of children in conflict with the law which mainly arise from breakdown of the social fabric,” he says.
Chambo adds that Mulanje social welfare office is highly understaffed with only 10 child-protection workers and two social welfare officers against a population of 750 000 of which 18-20 percent (0-18 years) are children.n