Child rights activists are pushing the government to revise laws that will control the number of children, particularly boys, sent to prison over consensual sexual acts.
Debate on the subject has ensued following a case involving a 15-year-old boy who was recently charged with the offense of defilement.
The boy (name withheld) allegedly had consensual sex with a girl aged 13 years but was later arrested following a complaint lodged by the girl’s parents.
The boy child is being represented in court by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA).
SALC and CHREAA are concerned by the number of children who have been sentenced to lengthy periods of imprisonment for consensual sexual acts and the use of criminal law to address matters of this nature.
In Malawi the age of consent for sexual activities is 16 years for females and there is no specific age indication for males.
There are concerns however that the law serves the purpose of protecting girls only while boys of the same age are sent to jail on defilement charges despite consensual sexual acts.
Leon Matanda, a youth and child activist, holds the view that the country should quickly make a decision on age of consent, as cases of sexual activities continue to escalate among children.
“As a country we have dragged feet in terms of making a decision about what age should be appropriate for boy and a girl to engage themselves in sexual activities,” Matanda explains.
He further points out that the country should emulate what South Africa has done by setting an exact age of consent for both girls and boys, which is 17.
Section 138(1) of Malawi’s Penal Code criminalizes abusive acts against children and further describes as a felony attracting corporal punishment, the act of carnally knowing an underage girl.
Desmond Mhango who is the Executive Director of the Center for Youth and Children Affairs, points out that his organization is raising awareness to change in the Penal Code and related laws that will help deal with the cases.
“Through the Ministry of Gender we have worked together in trying to harmonize legislations for child protection, and this is one of the sections we want to be reviewed.”
“We hope that it’s something that will work out soon because there are is delays in getting feedback from the Ministry of Justice but we hope it’s something that will work out soon,” Mhango indicates.