Malawi Interfaith AIDS Association (MIAA) is implementing the “Strengthening Justice for Children” project with support from CDC through CHAM. The project has two objectives namely:
to engage leaders and systems who can incorporate programing and policies to change the trajectory of violence against children in areas of high HIV burden;
and to engage stakeholders and justice sector to understand the barriers/gaps in the criminal justice chain of action in the management of sexual violence against children (in reporting, investigating, arresting, trial and prosecuting offenders).
Following the planning meetings that MIAA held with district Justice sectors in all the five districts where this project is being implemented (Mzimba, Zomba, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, and Thyolo) in order to initiate the commencement of the mobile court sittings, MIAA carried out monitoring exercises in the districts where the mobile courts trials had commenced. The main aim for this monitoring exercise was to appreciate the mobile court circuits and to witnesses the immediate change that is happening in the communities as a result of having these courts take place right where the people are, in their communities. This exercise was carried out between 6 and 10 December, 2021.
This report aims at giving an overview of the monitoring exercise.
2.0 Objectives of the Activity
- To monitor the progress of mobile courts
- To provide guidance on how the mobile courts must be carried out basing on the FCI project requirements.
3.0 Key Highlights
3.1 Blantyre District
A prosecutor and court clerk showing the accused the way after a court hearing at Lirangwe, BT
Blantyre district is one of the districts that are doing the mobile court circuits differently and strategically, and as such they have been able to carry out slightly more SVAC cases compared to the rest of the districts. Blantyre at the moment has handled about 20 cases, which at the moment is the highest number of cases across all five districts in the FCI project. One of the reasons why Blantyre district has managed to cover such a number of cases is because they strategically positioned themselves to handle the mobile court circuits through two courts; the Blantyre regional court as well as the Chisenjere Satellite court in Lunzu. With the two courts providing their schedules simultaneously, MIAA with support from CDC through CHAM, is able to finance both their schedules and as a result, the Blantyre team covers more cases and they go to so many communities to raise awareness on SVAC. This is a best practice that can be shared with the other districts so as to ensure that they too cover more cases and consequently, reach more people with information that will help them become aware of any form of violence against children.
At the moment, Blantyre has had cases on sodomy, where a man was sodomizing a young boy: cases on buggery, where a man has been defiling a young boy and cases on defilement, where very big men have defiled girls as young as 4 years’ old. At the moment, 70% of the cases that have been handled in Blantyre are defilement related. Of particular interest to MIAA due to its mandate and existence is a defilement case of a 28-year-old prophet (a faith leader) who defiled a 15-year-old girl, having lied to her that the prophet dreamt she was his wife. The case has been adjourned to 14 December, 2021 for the passing of the judgement.
3.1.1 Best practices from Blantyre are as follows:
- Their use of two courts (Blantyre regional court and Chisenjere Satellite court) has proven to be a best practice as this is allowing for more SVAC cases to be addressed thereby serving justice to children. On the same, the utilization of two courts has also allowed for more communities to grow in their awareness of sexual violence against children. Thereby, they have been empowered to report any SVAC cases to authorities whenever they see or hear about them.
- Involvement of media during mobile court circuits. This is helping in raising awareness on the evils of GBV and SVAC, thereby facilitating an end to behaviours that promote GBV and SVAC in the districts in Malawi.
3.1.2 Innovations in Blantyre District with the Mobile Court Circuits
- Malawi Interfaith AIDS Association implements another project in Blantyre under the banner “UBRAF” with support from UN Women. With the UBRAF project, MIAA has trained change agents (female and male) with the Barbershop training manual to be able to identify and report GBV whenever they encounter or hear about it. Though these change agents are for the UBRAF project, still we are involving them in the mobile court circuits so as to help us in mobilizing communities to patronize the mobile court circuits.
3.2 Zomba District
Zomba district is another district that is doing the mobile court circuits differently in achieving the outcomes of the FCI project. The Zomba mobile circuit team is taking the mobile court initiative to the cells, and they are calling that ‘cell visits’. With the cell visits initiative, the judiciary team is able to handle 2 to 4 cases in a day, thereby expediting the process of serving justice to children. Zomba has since handled 12 SVAC cases in T/A Malemia and T/A Nkagula.
3.2.1 Best practice from Zomba is as follows:
- Their innovation on cell visits is something that can be adopted in the FCI project and reciprocated to other judiciary teams in Mzimba, Blantyre, Thyolo and Chiradzulu.
3.3 Chiradzulu District
An audience in Chiradzulu during a court hearing
Chiradzulu district has also made strides with the mobile court circuit. They are one of the few districts that are looking at serving justice to children from a holistic perspective. Chiradzulu has at the moment handled cases of rape, defilement, indecent assault, GBV, and child maintenance. On the reason why Chiradzulu has been diverse in identifying which cases to be handled with the FCI project, Sub Inspector Munama explained that the bad traditional practices and beliefs that are deeply rooted in Chiradzulu are the ones fueling such cases of violence against children to continue to thrive. Therefore, looking only at defilement cases with the mobile court circuit would not really bring forth the desirable results that the FCI project would like to achieve in Chiradzulu district. Through handling diverse kinds of cases that all aim at bringing justice to children, Chiradzulu district has been able to reach different communities in the areas of Traditional Authorities Ntchema, Kadewere and Mpama with information on laws that protect children as well as on punishments given to anyone found violating the rights of children in any form. With this information, communities have now become very empowered to an extent that they have started reporting SVAC cases at family, school and even community level to the right authorities for further action.
There are 15 cases that has been handled by Chiradzulu at the moment.
3.4 Thyolo District
The magistrate taking notes as the victim narrates her side of the story in Thyolo
Thyolo has managed to still cover a good number of cases even with their challenges due to their innovation of making sure that whenever the magistrates have a slot for the mobile court circuits, they do everything in their right to go to at least two communities in one day so as to expedite the justice process but also to give out information on the evils of violence against children to a wider community in order for the community to hold each other accountable. With the festive season around the corner, the mobile court circuits in Thyolo have really played a huge role in protecting children from a wide range of violence that mostly are at peak during the festive season. The magistrates in thyolo have taken a huge responsibility on the matter by publicly rebuking anyone who is planning anything evil towards children in the district during this festive season and beyond. This constant reminder to the communities is helping to keep them in check on issues of sexual violence agains children but also it is helping them to hold each other accountable when it comes to protecting children.
3.5 Mzimba District
A police officer giving instructions to an audience in Mzimba during a court sitting
Mzimba district is doing very well with their mobile court circuits and at the moment they have reported having handle 14 cases. One of the cases they have handled has seen the accused being sentenced 20 years in hard labor. The most common cases in Mzimba are around defilement. The judiciary team is really trying to send a strong message to all offenders by giving out stiffer punishments as one way of teaching the rest of the communities how evil offences against children are.
At the moment, there has been positive feedback that has been received following the commencement of the mobile court circuits in Mzimba. Men are particularly very interested in the mobile court circuit as they are looking at it as a platform through which they can unlearn some of the norms they have held so much to in the name of preserving culture like making silly comments about their granddaughters’ bodies.
- The mobile court circuits are empowering community members to have an increased knowledge on the laws that protect children from all violence and especially sexual violence. With this knowledge increase, community members are now reporting sexual violence against children (SVAC) cases to the authorities both at VSU (Victim support unit) level and at district level.
So far, the mobile courts are a success in all the districts of Zomba, Mzimba, Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Blantyre. It is quite an encouraging thing to see that the judiciary teams leading the mobile courts in these districts are very passionate about justice for children. In all the mobile court circuits that MIAA went to supervise, the magistrate at the end of a hearing would take time to explain to the people present what the mobile court circuits are all about and what they seek to achieve. Furthermore, the magistrates narrate step by step to the people on how they can report about any SVAC cases that they witness taking place in their communities through the community policing system and through the police as well. The magistrate’s impact in the mobile court is being felt in all the districts as the number of cases being reported keep increasing.