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Press Release: “Hyena” Jail sentence is a failure to justice for women and girls in Africa

Press Release

For immediate release

“Hyena” Jail sentence is a failure to justice for women and girls in Africa

22nd Nov 2016 / Lilongwe – Malawi

Women’s human rights organization alongside cultural and religious leaders from African countries currently meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi have condemned in the strongest terms the “lenient” sentence passed on a man arrested for knowingly sexually violating women and allegedly infecting  them with HIV-Aids.

On Tuesday evening after the two-year sentence by the Nsanje Principal Resident Magistrate Innocent Nebi upon the 45 year old man Eric Aniva, nicknamed “Hyena”, the Malawi Human Rights Resource Center (MHRRC), the NGO Gender Co-ordination Network and the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) are now calling for a review of the ruling by the High Court of Malawi and the Director of Public prosecutions to appeal the sentence.

“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that a man, living with HIV has for over two decades sexually violated children as young as 12 years of age in an outdated retrogressive culture that is harmful for women and girls and the magistrate saw it fit to only give him 2 years in jail!” reacted Mrs. Emma Kaliya, a veteran Malawi Human Rights Activist and Executive Director for MHRCC.  “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, observers affirm that the sentence should have been higher to deter potential offenders and to bar communities from persisting with the practice.

“This is a great disappointment to the test of a new law that should otherwise be stringent enough to fully protect women and children. We are enraged!” said Mrs. Kaliya.

In a recent revelation in a BBC documentary that sparked wide condemnations in the region and in sections of the International media, Eric Aniva admitted to being HIV positive and being paid by parents to perform the traditional ritual of having sex with around 104 young girls in a cleansing ritual to mark their rite of passage to adulthood.

Some districts from parts of Southern Malawi, families pay a man referred to as “Hyena” to perform a cleansing sexual ceremony with bereaved widows to “exorcise evil spirits”. The same is also done to “initiate” young girls into adulthood at the turn of puberty with total disregard to the HIV status.

“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” said Hellen Apila, FEMNET’s Head of Advocacy.

“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” said Hellen.

Malawi’s Gender Equality At 2013 states that the criminal offence of sexual violation attracts a fine of 1 Million Malawi kwacha (Approx. $1200) or face a jail term of a maximum 5 years.

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” said Chief Mabilabo from Mzimba, Nothern Malawi. 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” said Fr. Henry Chinkanda, a Malawian Catholic priest.

In view of the challenges of cultural practices that violate the rights of women and girls in many African communities, a Kenyan Cultural elder from the Njuri Ncheke  Meru Community Benjamin Mugambi castigated accomplices to retrogressive practices that continue to entrap vulnerable indigenous communities to continued violations.

“It is wrong for families to encourage this kind of practice by paying the “hyenas” to persist the violation. When parents give away their children to be sexually violated then this is a criminal act that is punishable by law and must be fully condemned.

For more information and to request an interview, contact: Mildred Ngesa, Head of Communications, FEMNET; ngesamildred@gmail.com / Tel: +254 726137853

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