Civil society reacts to Aniva’s two year jail sentence

Human rights organisations have expressed their dissatisfaction on the two year custodial sentence the Nsanje magistrate court has handed out to Eric Aniva who was answering charges of sleeping with women and girls as part of sexual cleansing ritual.

Women’s Human Rights organization alongside Cultural and religious leaders from African countries currently meeting in Lilongwe, have condemned in the strongest terms the “lenient” sentence passed on a man arrested for knowingly sexually violating women rights despite knowing his HIV-Aids positive status.

After the Principal Resident Magistrate Innocent Nebi handed out the two year sentence, Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRC), the NGO Gender Coordinating Network and the African Women Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) have championed calls for a review of the sentence.

Through a joint communique, the organisations have called upon the Director of Public Prosecutions to seriously consider appealing the sentence as it is not deterrent enough for other would be offenders.

“We are shocked and appalled that a man, living with HIV has for over two decades sexually violated children as young as 12 years of age in an outdated retrogressive culture that is harmful for women and girls and the magistrate saw it fit to only give him 2 years jail term” reacted Emma Kaliya, a veteran Malawi Human Rights Activist and Executive Director for MHRCC on Tuesady.

“What message does this send to all perpetrators of sexual violence hiding behind discriminatory and destructive cultural practices? That you can get away with only two years? This is a disgrace and a big let-down to the women and girls of Malawi. The courts of justice must revoke and reconsider this sentence,” she added.

As the first case to be tried under the Malawi Gender Equality Act 2013, the organisations observed that the sentence should have been higher to deter potential offenders and to bar communities from persisting with the practice.

“These are the destructive cultures we are fighting against that have continued to endanger and harm women and girls in Africa. This particular case presented a great opportunity for the Malawi Judicial system to affirm its commitment to Justice for women and girls in Malawi but it has failed them,” FEMNET’s Head of Advocacy, Hellen Apila said.

She added, “Persistent sexual violations under the pretext of culture continue to dodge women and girls in the world and this must be vehemently condemned. We urge the government of Malawi not to waste this important opportunity to make landmark strides in ending destructive cultural practices by invoking the full force of the law and any other cases of sexual violations that infringe on the rights of women and girls”.

Speaking from the same meeting hosted by FEMNET and MHRRC, a section of religious and cultural leaders and media from Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Tunisia and Rwanda equally expressed outrage over the sentence and called for stiffer penalties.

“It is a disgrace that in our communities we still perpetuate this kind of violation to our women and girls. It is time that we chiefs from all communities in Malawi come together to fully condemn and castigate these harmful practices that endanger our women and girls” Chief Mabilabo from Mzimba said.

He added that the law in the corridors of justice must also amplify efforts to assure justice for victims of harmful sexual practices.

“It is disturbing that this kind of cultural practice has continued for so long. Many women and girls continue to suffer from such atrocities. There is serious need to step in more firmly to protect our women and girls,” Fr. Henry Chinkanda, a Catholic priest said.

The charges that Aniva was answering attract a maximum jail term of five years or an alternative of K 1 million fine.

Source: Malawi News Agency – MANA.