14 February 2014

Malawi: Rape of Minors and Risk of HIV Increase in Malawi

The government of Malawi should increase efforts to end widespread child and forced marriage, or risk worsening poverty, illiteracy, and preventable ... ( Resource: Call to End Child Marriage in Malawi )

Police reports indicate that many parts of Malawi are registering a sharp rise in cases of rape of girls under the age of 16.

The southern region of Malawi, which has the largest number of districts, registered 182 such rape cases in the first nine months of 2013, compared to 125 in the same period in 2012.

Nicholas Gondwa, southern region police public relations officer, said: "This number only represents the cases which are reported in various police stations in the country." He added that the number of cases of rape of women over the age of 16 had decreased slightly, but emphasized that with most cases of rape, people don't report the violation.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa

Rape is just one example of the high rates of incidents of gender-based violence that also includes physical and verbal abuse. According to UNAIDS, women who have experienced violence are up to three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who have not.

Information from the Population Information Bureau published in 2011 shows that approximately 68 per cent of people with HIV worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa and that women are the most affected.

At the end of last year, the Malawi Human Rights Commission joined the rest of the world in observing the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign.

In a press statement, the Reverend Dr Zacc Kawalala, acting chairperson of the commission, said: "While domestic violence is a global problem, women in Malawi face particular challenges. Violence by intimate partners has serious consequences for maternal mortality and child survival in addition to having detrimental effects on the nation's social and economic development."

Suffering in silence

Memory Mgeni, an officer responsible for the police victim support unit, said: "Our office receives many cases of gender-based violence, but the most common are to do with wife battery as many Malawians still believe that beating a wife is 'the medicine of the family'.

"Some women don't report cases of violence because they feel as if their integrity will be questioned by the community. Others would like to protect their marriage as they are afraid that the husband may call for divorce. What they forget is that the trauma associated with the violence takes a lot of time to fade."

The victim support unit is currently informing young girls in primary and secondary schools on how they can go about reporting issues of abuse, especially with regards to rape.

Gender-based violence and HIV

There are many factors that are perpetuating gender-based violence in Malawi. According to a survey conducted by Dr Thomas Bisika in 2008, some men in Malawi believe that sleeping with a young girl can cure a person of HIV.

The report states: "There are men who believe that they can be cured of AIDS if they had sex with a virgin and also that some men believe that they could get rich if they have sex with their daughters on recommendation from a traditional healer."

Such dangerous myths are resulting in the violation of children and women with devastating consequences.

Dispelling the myth of an HIV cure

Forced and unprotected sexual intercourse puts women and girls at risk from HIV transmission and this is made worse if there is violence or trauma which increases the likelihood of the virus being transmitted.

Moses Chikaya, HIV/AIDS coordinator at Mulanje Mission Hospital in the southern region of Malawi emphasized that having the belief that sleeping with a young virgin can cure a person of HIV is incorrect and dangerous, and puts everyone at greater risk. Chikaya said: "Most people who do this are middle aged since most of them have stable pockets which attracts young girls. The practice has long lasting effects to the individual, community and even the country at large. Selfish reasoning affects innocent people."

When young people are used as 'cures' they are put at risk of HIV infection and ultimately the whole community is affected by increased spread of the disease.

There is no cure for HIV and it is important to dispel this myth, particularly as there is medication that if taken correctly allows people living with HIV to live long and productive lives.

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