Malawi: NGO challenges parliament on anti-homosexuality bill

By Rebecca Chimjeka

The center for the Development of the people (CEDEP) one of the national human rights watch dogs in the country is strategizing with its network members on how to challenge the parliament for the recent enactment of a law aimed at criminalizing same sex marriages.

Among other thing the organization has intensified are a country wide baseline survey which has already started in southern region district of Machinga, Mangochi and Chikhwawa including the commercial city of Blantyre where so far, at least 300 people including children have been targeted.

The study, which is being carried out in partnership with the University of Malawi’s college of Medicine and John Hopkins, seeks to solicit views from the general public perception sexual practices as the method to reduce escalating of HIV prevalence in the country.

Speaking in Lilongwe at the presentation of a twenty day study report, University of Malawi chancellor college lecture Dr Jessie Kabwila Kapasula said the enactment of the new section 137 (a) of the penal code of parliament has put the country’s democracy under threat.

In 2011 an amendment added section 137A which provides that any female person who, whether in private or public, commits any act of gross indecency with another female shall be liable to up to 5 years imprisonment.

“These are not only issues to do with gay rights, this is the battle against HIV/AIDS as well as universal rights to privacy and freedom, and to end discrimination and stigma.

“The problem we have is lack of knowledge and understanding pf minority sex practices,” said Kapasula.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi. Section 153 prohibits “unnatural offences”. Section 156 concerning “public decency” is used to punish homosexual acts.

Tourists who commit acts of homosexuality with locals can be prosecuted under article 156 and expelled as “undesirable aliens”.

In late December 2009, a trans-woman and a man, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested for holding a traditional ‘engagement’ party.

They were imprisoned in Blantyre, were denied bail and stood trial. On 18 May, they were found guilty, although there has been an international outcry from LGBT solidarity groups on 29 May 2010, President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned both individuals.

“We talk about sex workers, prisoners and gays, their issues are similar, their activities are criminalized in our laws. Our society wants to talk about sex, but not about the issues.

“Prison authorities do not acknowledge that homosexual acts are going on in prison. Apart from that, we have a lot of issues of rape, but still these issues do not come out because [officials] try to suppress them.
There is no comprehensive HIV prevention program in prisons – we cannot distribute condoms.

“I think that maybe in the history of Malawi, no one has come out like [Monjeza and Chimbalanga] – I think government was caught unawares. People have been denying that there are MSM in Africa, in Malawi – that gay people exist. I think that this is proof of the existence of such communities in our country and society. Said CEDEP Director, Gift Trapence  Health Committee Chairperson Paul Chibingu accepted that the laws leave a lot to be desired.

“There is a need to enact or change some the laws so that we include homosexuals and sex workers in the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS,” he said.

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