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IRIN Africa | Southern Africa | MALAWI | MALAWI: Abuse of women and girls a national shame | Children, Democracy, Education, Gender issues, Other | Focus
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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MALAWI: Abuse of women and girls a national shame

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


President Mutharika has vowed that abusers will be punished

JOHANNESBURG, 1 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - A recent study and several well-publicised cases of gender violence have raised concern in Malawi, with the president and aid agencies calling for urgent action to address the problem.

A survey commissioned by the NGO, ActionAid, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and humanitarian partners, covering over a thousand school-age girls, found that more than half had experienced some form of sexual abuse in schools in Malawi.

The information will enable the government and NGOs to "understand the nature and extent of violence against girls in education, which would in turn assist in addressing the [broader] problem of violence against girls".

Urgent measures to curb violence against girls both at home and in schools were recommended.

A total of 1,496 respondents participated, of whom 85.2 percent were attending school and 14.6 percent were not, in nine districts across the country's three regions.

Marriage, pregnancy and sexual abuse by schoolboys and teachers were the main reasons girls put forward for staying out of school.

Of the 1,493 pupils interviewed, 90.2 percent were aged between 11 and 18 years and the rest 18 years or older. Just over 94 percent had never been married, while some 5 percent were married or cohabitating.

Girls in schools were subjected to various forms of violence by male teachers, including sexual abuse, forced relationships, beatings and severe punishments, such as being stripped naked if they arrived late at school.

According to the survey, 50 percent of the girls said their private parts had been touched "without permission, by either their teachers or fellow schoolboys".

"The major perpetrators of these incidents of violence were fellow pupils - they committed about 51.6 percent of all incidents. Another major category [of abusers] was 'friends', which accounted for 16 percent of all incidents committed," the researchers noted.

Only 2 percent of respondents reported the abuse to the police, while 52.3 percent did not report the matter to any authority figure, such as a school principle or guardian. The authors said "a considerable proportion of girls in the study failed to report incidents of violence" because they were embarrassed.

In his radio message to the nation on Sunday, President Bingu wa Mutharika warned all who committed violence against girls and women that his government would punish them.

Mutharika made the statement following a growing number of media reports about the issue.

"Very young girls are being raped; women are having their hands chopped off by their husbands, with others having their body parts removed by the assailers. How different are these kinds of people from animals?" asked Mutharika.

He called on all human rights NGOs, religious groups and other organisations to join government in dealing with the problem.

After visiting a woman who was hospitalised when her husband chopped off both her arms, Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati stressed, "When a woman says, 'I do not want to have sex with you', it does not mean that you should beat her or force her. This is her right. Government will not tolerate this kind of violence against women."

Minister of Gender, Women and Community Services Joyce Banda told reporters at a press briefing last week that "government is considering changing laws aimed at protecting women from abuse by their husbands. Adult men are raping many children and they are given lenient punishments. We want this to come to an end."

UNICEF also highlighted the impact of the current food shortage on the vulnerability of children. "The humanitarian situation in Malawi remains very serious, due to a deadly combination of chronic poverty, bad weather conditions, bad harvest, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and an outbreak of cholera," the agency said in a statement.

About 40 percent of the population - a total of 4.9 million people - are in need of food assistance until the end of March 2006. Of these, an estimated one million are children younger than five years and pregnant women. According to UNICEF, "Forty-eight percent of children under five years of age in Malawi are stunted; five percent are wasted or severely malnourished; 22 percent are underweight or malnourished."


 Theme(s) Children
Other recent MALAWI reports:

Embattled street vendors get a reprieve,  15/Feb/06

Mutharika's former deputy to challenge his dismissal,  10/Feb/06

Opposition accuses Mutharika of score-settling,  9/Feb/06

Maize prices still rising,  7/Feb/06

Public works programme to combat poverty extended,  1/Feb/06

Other recent Children reports:

IRAQ: Thousands of families still displaced after flooding, 21/Feb/06

SOUTH AFRICA: Govt adopts more focused approach to help orphans, 21/Feb/06

YEMEN: Two killed in flash floods, 21/Feb/06

YEMEN: Measles vaccination campaign launched to prevent children’s deaths, 21/Feb/06

TAJIKISTAN: UN appeal for 2006 launched, 16/Feb/06

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