Women and Justice: Jurisdiction

Domestic Case Law

Jumbo v. Banja La Mtsogolo Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2002)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The applicant, Salome Jumbo, claimed she was dismissed as a result of her pregnancy. In 1999, the applicant started as a temporary nurse aid at a clinic and continued in that position until 2001. In 2001, the manager of the clinic assured the applicant that her job had become permanent. On April 4, 2001, the manager discovered that the applicant was pregnant. He immediately warned the applicant that he would not allow her to keep her job if she remained pregnant, as they wanted a permanent nurse aid. The manager also enquired into the applicant’s private affairs and made inappropriate sexual remarks. On June 1, 2001, the manager terminated the applicant’s employment explicitly informing her that her termination was due to her pregnancy. The applicant asked for a reference letter, but the manager refused saying that she was a temporary employee and did not deserve one. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) ruled that the termination was contrary to the spirit of the Employment Act and ordered that the clinic immediately re-instate the applicant. The Court found that the respondent specifically violated the applicant’s rights under §31(1) of the Employment Act, which requires employers to provide a reference if the employee requests one on termination of an employment contract.  In addition, the respondent violated § 49 (1) of the Employment Act, which dictates that “terminating a woman’s employment because of pregnancy amount[s] to an offence [that is] punishable with a fine of K20,000 and imprisonment of five years” (p. 3). The Court also found that the manager’s inquiries into the applicant’s private affairs with her husband amounted to sexual harassment. This case is notable in Malawi because it set the precedent that inquiring into a married woman’s private affairs with her husband is an unfair labor practice.

Mwanza v. World Vision Malawi Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2006)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent employed the applicant on a fixed term contract as a data entry clerk. The applicant’s contract term was four years expiring on January 10, 2005. However, the respondent terminated her on December 22, 2003. The reason given for her termination was that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. The applicant challenged the dismissal and took legal action against the respondent. The respondent conceded that the reason for termination was invalid and asked the court to decide on a remedy. The applicant asked for reinstatement as the remedy. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) found that reinstatement was an inappropriate remedy because the applicant’s fixed contract had already lapsed in time. Instead, the Court awarded the applicant compensation for the employment benefits lost between the effective date of her termination (March 22, 2004) and the expiration of her contract (January 10, 2005). The Court cited § 63 (4) of Malawi’s Employment Act, which “provides that compensation shall be just and equitable” (p. 2). The Court awarded additional compensation to the applicant pursuant to §§ 63(5)(d), 57(3) and 49 of the Employment Act. Section 57(3) “prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s sex, marital status or other status;” whereas, § 49 prohibits “dismissal on grounds of pregnancy (p. 3).”

Kaunda v. Tukombo Girls Secondary School Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2007)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The applicant and her husband were both employed by the respondent as an accounts clerk and teacher, respectively. After the applicant’s husband resigned to join the Public Service, the respondent terminated the applicant’s employment contract noting that her employment was tied to her husband’s. The applicant challenged the dismissal alleging that it was invalid. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) found that the respondent discriminated against the applicant on the basis of her marital status. The Court reasoned that “the effect of the reason used by the respondent was to prevent the applicant from entering and sustaining an employment contract and pursuing a livelihood in her own right because she was married” (p. 2). In reaching its decision, the Court consulted § 5 of Malawi’s Employment Act and §§ 20, 24(1)(i), 24(2)(b) and 31 of Malawi’s Constitution. The Court held that the applicant’s termination was invalid because the reason for her termination “denied her right to engage in economic activity through employment” and “her right to fair labor practices” (p. 2). Therefore, the applicant’s termination was also prohibited under section 57(3)(a) of Malawi’s Employment Act. The Court awarded the applicant compensation for the unfair dismissal and discrimination.

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.

Phiri v. Smallholder Coffee Farmers Trust Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2007)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

The plaintiff, Phiri, was a security guard. She was employed on a fixed term renewable contract, renewable upon satisfactory performance. On December 26, 2005, near the end of her employment term, one of Phiri’s colleagues attacked her and attempted to rape her, only stopping after being apprehended when the plaintiff shouted for help. The plaintiff reported the incident to her employer’s management. In response, the company’s management accused her of misconduct for revealing to the public what the company considered an internal matter. On December 31 2005, the company fired the plaintiff citing the expiring fixed term contract for support. The plaintiff brought her case in front of the Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”). The Court found that she had reason to believe her contract would have been renewed and that the company’s failure to renew her contract was based on the attempted rape incident. According to the Court, the company’s action breached an implied term of Phiri’s employment contract relating to mutual trust and confidence as well as the company’s obligation under the contract to protect female employees. The Court found that this incident was sexual harassment. Until recent amendments to the Employment Act, the labor laws of Malawi did not address sexual harassment. The closest Malawi’s labor regulation came to prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace was § 5 of the Employment and Labor Relations Act read with § 20 of Malawi’s Constitution, which prohibits unfair discrimination in all forms. Despite the lack of a legal provision specifically addressing sexual harassment, the Court found that inappropriate sexually based behavior (e.g. sexual advances) creates a hostile work environment and leads to unfair labor practices. Therefore, the Court found Phiri’s dismissal invalid and held that the company violated Phiri’s “right to fair labor practices, the right to work, her right to safe working environment and personal dignity” (p 4).

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.