FILE - Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.
FILE - Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.

BLANTYRE, MALAWI - Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera has announced plans for stiffer penalties against those who commit gender-based violence, after a jump in cases during the pandemic.  In a national address for Human Rights Day on December 10, Chakwera said Malawi would also require the teaching of human rights in schools.

President Chakwera said figures from the National Statistics Office on gender-based violence are worrying.

“Three years ago, the National Statistics Office reported that one in three Malawian women and girls between the age of 15 and 49 experiences physical or sexual violence. To make matters worse, cases of these crimes have since been going up. And in the last three months of this year alone, the rate has been 35 percent higher than the same period last year," he said.

Chakwera said the trend shows that under the restrictions on movement put in place to fight COVID-19, gender-based crimes have been widespread. 

He announced plans for stiffer penalties against those who commit gender-based violence.

“Ministries of Justice and Gender and my administration will prepare amendment to relevant pieces of legislation including the Criminal Procedure and Evidence code to fast track the disposal of such cases, to exert stiffer mandatory penalties against culprits and to establish a sex offenders register," he announced.

Chakwera also said Malawi would require the teaching of human rights in schools. 

For the past two months, rights campaigners have been holding a series of protests against continued cases of rape and sexual abuse of girls and women.

During protests in November, Women Doctors Association in Malawi and other rights activists gave President Chakwera 90 days to present measures to help end the sexual abuse. 

New cases of rape and sexual abuse against women and girls are reported in Malawi nearly every week. 

On Thursday local media reported that police in the southern Mangochi district have arrested a 33-year-old man for raping three sisters aged between 12 and 14. One of them is now pregnant.

Maggie Kathewera-Banda, executive director for Women’s Manifesto Movement, says a big problem is that current laws are not enforced.

“I think we are not addressing the real issues, because if you look at rape what is the maximum sentence? They are saying you can even go up to death sentence. Because for me, I think in Malawi it’s more about implementation of our laws rather than the laws themselves," she said. "Over the years we tried to come up with gender laws but you find that they have not been implemented.” 

Immaculate Maluza, president for Women Lawyers Association in Malawi, says attitudes toward gender-based violence must change.

“And also deal with toxic traits in our culture that promote violence against women to reflect the period that were in now," she told VOA.

Maluza says steps should be taken to criminalize harmful cultural practices that tolerate violence against women.