Women and Justice: Court: High Court of Malawi

Domestic Case Law

Kayira v. State High Court of Malawi (2015)

Statutory rape or defilement

In 2013, the appellant, 24-year-old Matthews Kyria, was found having sexual intercourse with the victim, Sarah K., who was 15 years old. The next day the victim admitted that she had been having sexual relations with the appellant since June 2011. Malawi charged the defendant with defilement contrary to § 138(1) and indecent assault contrary to § 137(1), both of Malawi’s Penal Code. Section 138(1) provides, “Any person who unlawfully and carnally knows any girl under the age of sixteen years shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable to imprisonment to life” (¶ 7.1). In the lower court, the appellant pleaded not guilty arguing that the victim consented to the sexual acts and that she showed him an identification card that she had doctored to state that she was 17 years old at the time. The lower court found the appellant guilty on both counts. The appellant filed two grounds of appeal asking: (i) “whether the conviction of the appellant was proper with regard . . . to the circumstances of the case;” and; (ii) “whether the sentences were manifestly excessive considering the” fact the victim had mislead the appellant with respect to her age (¶ 3.1). The High Court upheld the conviction citing the strict liability nature of the crime. The Court noted that the victim was clearly underage at the time of the sexual intercourse and rejected the defendant’s consent defense noting that “girls under the age of . . . [sixteen] are incapable of giving consent due to immaturity (¶ 7.4).” Notwithstanding, the Court reduced the appellant’s sentence to four years for defilement and one year for indecent assault to run concurrently, noting that the appellant did not know that the victim was under age.



The Republic v. Banda, et al. High Court of Malawi (2016)

Gender discrimination, Trafficking in persons

On February 23, 2016, 19 women were arrested by police and jointly charged “for the offence of living on the earnings of prostitution” in violation of § 146 of the Penal Code of Malawi (the “Penal Code”) ( ¶ 1.1). A Fourth Grade Magistrate in Dedza convicted them “on their own plea of guilt” and fined them MK 7,000.00 each (¶ 1.2). The police lacked evidence to prove the charge against them. In addition, the women did not have legal representation during the proceedings, including when their guilty plea was recorded. The women challenged the conviction on July 28, 2016 on numerous grounds including (i) that the Fourth Grade Magistrate did not have jurisdiction, (ii) that the women were charged together when they should have been charged separately, (iii) that the High Court should not have accepted a unanimous plea, (iv) that “the charge was wrong in law as living on the earnings of prostitution does not target the sex worker herself” but those who live parasitically and exploitatively off her earnings, and (v) that the plea of guilty should not be accepted because the court did not comply with mandatory procedures regarding the defendants’ knowledge. The High Court found that the Fourth Grade Magistrate did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. In addition, the Court held that the arrest of the women was unconstitutional and not based on evidence. Citing the legislative history of the offense, the Court clarified that § 146 of the Penal Code did not criminalize sex work but was mainly intended to protect sex workers from those who would exploit them. The High Court held that even though sex workers may be arrested in circumstances under this section, the arrest must be properly supported by evidence. Consequently, the High Court vacated the convictions and ordered that fines be repaid to the women. 



Vaux v. Vaux High Court of Malawi (2007)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The petitioner-wife sought dissolution of her marriage on the grounds of abuse by the respondent-husband, who repeatedly physically abused her and threatened her with physical force when she tried to stop him from drinking. She also asked for maintenance for the couple's daughter. The Court granted the dissolution of marriage and noted that the types of mistreatment the petitioner suffered at the hands of her husband constituted gender-based violence as defined by the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women because it was based on the unequal power relations between the husband and wife and caused the petitioner serious psychological suffering.  



Kamwendo v. Republic High Court of Malawi (2004)

Sexual violence and rape

The accused was convicted of rape and sentenced to a custodial term of imprisonment of 18 months.  He appeals on the grounds that the lower court erred in convicting him in contradiction of the Medical Report that found it was a fabricated rape. The Court dismissed the appeal finding that the complainant's story was corroborated by the evidence and did not therefore require the Medical Report's corroboration as well and also that the Medical Report is not to be taken as conclusive evidence of penetration.  The evidence also showed that the intercourse the appellant had with the complainant was non-consensual because the consent was fraudulently obtained.



Republic v. Chiledzelere High Court of Malawi (2007)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

The accused was convicted of attempted rape and sentenced to five years imprisonment with hard labor for accosting the complainant and assaulting her with the intent to have intercourse with her before he was prevented from doing so by the arrival of the witness. The appeal was dismissed because the accused's actions in fondling the complainant and tearing her underwear provided clear evidence of his intent.  The sentence was upheld because of the aggravating factors that the accused was told that the complainant was a married woman and the traumatic effect of the tearing of the woman's underwear.  [Note: International legal standards do not discriminate on the basis of marital status in determining the gravity of a rape.]



Republic v. Hwangwa High Court of Malawi (2008)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was convicted of defiling a 12-year-old girl and appealed the conviction on the grounds that the intercourse was consensual and that he believed the complainant was older than 12 years at the time. The Court dismissed the appeal and noted that the evidence was sufficient to prove a lack of consent but also that, at 12 years old, the complainant was too young to give consent. The Court also noted aggravating factors, including that the appellant had intercourse with the complainant on multiple occasions and the appellant had threatened the complainant against telling her parents. 



Republic v. Makaluni High Court of Malawi (2002)

Sexual violence and rape

The accused was convicted of rape and sentenced to four years' imprisonment.  The sentence was appealed by the judge who reviewed the lower court's decision because the reviewing judge found the sentence inadequate. The Court upheld the sentence, stating that it was not so excessively inadequate as to merit interference and taking note of the factors used in determining sentences for rape offenders: violence used to commit the rape, a repeated rape, a carefully planned rape, whether the defendant has previous convictions for rape or other serious offenses, whether the victim was subjected to any further sexual indignities, whether the victim was very young or very old, and the physical and mental effects upon the victim. The factors to warrant a harsher sentence were not judged to be present in this case, and the sentencing judge's decision was within his discretion.



Republic v. Mzungu High Court of Malawi (2007)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was charged with defilement for having unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 13 years of age. The trial court convicted him of indecent assault because there was no penetration. He appealed his conviction for indecent assault because it was not included in the original charge. He also argued that his sentence was excessive. The Court dismissed the appeal of the conviction on the grounds that where the evidence is sufficient to sustain the lesser charge of indecent assault but may not be sufficient for defilement, the accused may be convicted of the lesser crime even when it was not included in the original charge. However, the Court upheld the appeal of the sentence and lowered it, despite of the fact that women and girls need to be protected, taking into account the mitigating factor of the appellant's youth.



Republic v. Peter High Court of Malawi (2008)

Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was found guilty of defiling a girl under 13 years of age and appealed on the grounds that the sentence is excessive and that his taking care of his grandparents should be considered as a mitigating factor. The complainant had since been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and medical examinations revealed multiple instances of sexual abuse. The appellant testified that neither he nor his wife had a sexually transmitted infection, but the Court did not find this claim persuasive because neither of them had been tested (neither took the initiative to be tested and the government could not force them to be tested). The Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the sentence, considering the harm done to the complainant in infecting her with a sexually transmitted infection.