Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika has asked the justice ministry to prepare draft laws governing cultural practices in the country, after reports of men known as ‘hyenas’ who have sex with girls to prepare them for marriage.
Last year, Malawi passed a law banning child marriage and raised the minimum age for girls to marry to 18, in a move hailed by campaigners seeking an end to the practice that affects half of all girls in the country.
Earlier this week, a man known as Eric Aniva and who made international headlines after admitting that he has been having sex with underage girls to prepare them for marriage, was arrested after President Mutharika ordered police to investigate him and his accomplices.
This man was abusing children. He infringed their rights and I am sure some have dropped out of school and others have been made pregnant or contracted the HIV. So arresting him is one of the solutions and the best sentence for him would be life imprisonment.
The ministry of justice has also been instructed by the president to form a draft paper that will form legislation governing cultural practices in the country.
“I think it was a wise decision for this man to be arrested, investigated and then if found that he has actually violated the law he will be tried and convicted and I think that will send us a signal to other people who may be doing this that this kind of practice is unacceptable. And as I said, eventually, we will have a more comprehensive law governing cultural traditions which are harmful to society.”
Every year, 15 million girls are married as children with one in three girls in the developing world married before they are 18, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.
Critics say early marriage deprives girls of an education, increases the risk of domestic violence, death or serious injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready.
On the streets of Lilongwe, many Malawians agree that customs like sexual initiation of girls should be done away with.
“We need to understand that this is a deep-rooted culture as such arresting this man is no solution in itself rather, government needs to do more of civic education from the grassroots. When we do that it means the generation that has these practices will stop and the new generation will never go back to these old and harmful practices,” said Augustine Chirwa, a Lilongwe resident.
“This man was abusing children. He infringed their rights and I am sure some have dropped out of school and others have been made pregnant or contracted the HIV. So arresting him is one of the solutions and the best sentence for him would be life imprisonment,” said Gladys Kapingasa another Lilongwe resident.
Many countries in Africa have implemented laws that outlaw harmful practices like female genital mutilation. Yet these practices persist because societies view girls as a financial burden, and others believe a girl should marry as early as possible to maximize her fertility.