A new study by the Centre for Human Rights, Education and Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) has exposed a grim picture of Malawi’s efforts to curb rising cases of child abuse with figures showing a surge in the country.
For instance, Chreaa’s figures recorded from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital’s (Qech) One Stop Centre (OSC) in the past 36 months indicate that over 1 300 children were sexually and physically victimised in Blantyre alone.
The survey conducted in Blantyre shows a steady rise in abuse cases with 2015 registering 396 minors, 2016 recording 446, while 2017 recorded approximately 540. Most victims in all the cases were minors aged between six and 16 years.
This confirms an earlier assessment by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) which also uncovered an increase in such abuse cases last year.
Development coordinator for Chreaa’s Access to Paralegal Aid Services at OSC Project, Siphiwe Malihera, attributed the rise in the cases to ignorance among communities and inadequate forensic resources in OSCs, where sexual and physical abuse cases are recorded for trial in the courts.
He said this in Blantyre on Tuesday during the launch of the project which aims to improve child protection and justice delivery to child victims of sexual abuse in the country.
Maliherah said: “These child abuse trends in the country are disheartening and the results pathetic because most of the cases were never concluded at trial, which means about 90 percent of the perpetrators were left scot-free
“Most likely when perpetrators are not convicted they reoffend, thereby increasing the prevalence rate.”
According to Maliherah, over 90 percent of child abuse cases are discontinued in the courts due to insufficient evidence bordering on poor police investigation or are withdrawn by the child’s family because the perpetrators are mostly family members.
In her presentation, Justice Zione Ntaba, a High Court judge who sits at the High Court Zomba Registry, urged prosecutors in the country to strive for tangible evidence.
“Every case has to be dealt with on its own facts. If the evidence that is brought is not strong, then the issue can hardly be proved beyond reasonable doubt because beyond a reasonable doubt is a big burden of truth,” said Ntaba in her address to 40 police prosecutors and child rights protection officers who attended the presentation.
One of the prosecutors, Superintendent Memory Mgeni, from Southern Region Police Headquarters bemoaned the slow progress of investigations due to lack of key resources like forensic labs in OSCs and inadequate court personnel to speed up the case trials.
According to Unicef, about 27 percent of Malawian adolescent girls aged between 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse in their lifetime, mainly from known perpetrators such as friends, classmates and current or former partners or boyfriends.
In an earlier interview, Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Esmie Kainja, said it is not government’s responsibility alone to stop violence against children and adolescents.