Malawi Human Rights - History

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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

President Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) party led the Republic of Malawi, which in 1999 held its second democratic multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections since independence in 1964. Independent observers concluded that the elections were free and substantially fair; however, there was limited opposition access to media and problems in voter registration, and the opposition lost appeals of the results in the courts. The 10 parliamentary by-elections held since 1999 have been marred by increasing violence, allegations of vote fraud, and contested results. Constitutional power was shared between a popularly elected president and the 193-member National Assembly. The UDF had 96 seats in the National Assembly; the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had 61 seats; Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) had 30 seats; and there were 6 independent members. There was no clear-cut ideological difference among the three political parties. The Government respected the constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system was inefficient and lacked resources.

The National Police, headed by the Inspector General of Police under the Ministry of Home Affairs, were responsible for internal security. The police occasionally called on the army for support. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

The country was very poor, with a narrow economic base characterized by a small and highly concentrated industrial sector, low levels of foreign and domestic investment, and few mineral resources. The country's population was estimated to be 10,386,000, and agriculture dominated the economy, employing more than 80 percent of the labor force. The Government continued to move forward with its multisector privatization program and endorsed private sector participation in infrastructure. Wealth remained highly concentrated in the hands of a small elite. Annual per capita income was approximately $178.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Police use of excessive force or negligence resulted in some unlawful killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. The police continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening and resulted in a large number of deaths. Arbitrary arrest and detention were common, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. An inefficient, understaffed, and underfunded judicial system limited the ability of defendants to receive a timely, and in some cases, fair trial. Security forces at times infringed on some privacy rights. The Government generally respected freedom of speech and the press; however, there were some exceptions. Limited self-censorship existed. At times police used force against demonstrators. Violence against women was common, and women continued to experience severe societal discrimination. Abuse of children remained a problem. Child labor, including instances of forced child labor, also was a problem. There were reports of trafficking in persons. Mob violence triggered by anger over high levels of common crime resulted in mob executions of alleged criminals. Malawi was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of political killings; however, there were unlawful killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. These deaths involved possible use of excessive force or possible negligence. A large number of prisoners died largely due to harsh prison conditions (see Section 1.c.). Inquests into deaths in custody were not routine.

In November 2001, Evison Matafale, a popular reggae star who was arrested for allegedly distributing seditious documents, died while in police custody. An investigation by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) concluded that the police were not at fault and that he died of illness; however, his time in prison may have hastened his death.

In December 2001, police forcibly dispersed a student demonstration and shot and killed a student demonstrator in Zomba. The HRC determined that indiscriminate shots fired by police officers led to the death of the student and injury to a bystander. The HRC recommended that the Inspector General of Police prosecute the officers responsible for the shooting; however, it subsequently complained publicly of the lack of cooperation from the Inspector General. In September the student's family initiated a lawsuit against the Attorney General to seek compensation for loss of his life.

In August violent clashes between supporters of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pressure group resulted in the death of a UDF party official (see Section 2.b.).

Frustrated by inadequate law enforcement and rising crime, angry mobs sometimes resorted to vigilante justice in beating, stoning, or burning suspected criminals to death. For example, on September 23, an angry mob in Mulanje beat to death a boy for stealing a bicycle. No arrests were made; however, the police were conducting investigations. In March the Minister of Home Affairs acknowledged that reports of mob justice were increasing with the rise in thefts due to the food shortage. Between January and March, citizens in several communities killed more than 80 suspected thieves caught stealing maize. There was no action taken by authorities in these cases by year's end.

No action was likely to be taken against the members of a mob who in March 2001 in the town of Mulanje beat to death a man charged with armed robbery.

There was one person tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for serial killings in 2000; however, the death penalty still had not been carried out by year's end. The President stated publicly that the death penalty would not be used while he was in office.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, police continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. The Inspectorate of Prisons was an investigative body mandated by the Constitution, and the findings of its 2000 report were considered indicative of prison conditions by domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The report noted that techniques used by police included beatings, physical assault, and the use of wire instead of handcuffs to restrain prisoners and to force confessions. Police sometimes hid these abuses by keeping prisoners in police custody until wounds healed before turning them over to the prison system for remand. The mistreatment partly was due to the mistaken belief of many police officers that the law required them to present a case (not just charges) to the court within 48 hours of arrest. Lack of financial resources for appropriate equipment, facilities, and training also contributed to mistreatment.

Police forcibly dispersed demonstrations during the year (see Section 2.b.).

Police continued efforts to improve investigative skills and to introduce the concept of victims' rights through workshops and other training exercises, particularly in the areas of sexual abuse and domestic violence (see Section 5). While higher-ranking officials demonstrated familiarity with new standards for the humane treatment of prisoners, their subordinates commonly employed unacceptable techniques. The Government continued to seek community involvement in its comprehensive reform of the police. The four pilot programs that provided community service alternative for some offenders and were initiated in 2000 had been introduced to all parts of the country by year's end. A refresher course on community service was conducted for lower ranking magistrates in October.

Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. The overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, substandard sanitation, and poor health facilities remained serious problems.

In October inmates at Zomba central prison rioted to protest inadequate food supplies. One inmate was shot and killed and four others were injured. During the year, a total of 29 inmates died in prison, mostly due to HIV/AIDS.

Although women were not kept in separate facilities, they were segregated within the prison compound and watched over by female guards. Although four prisons were supposed to have separate facilities for juveniles, the separation was inadequate in practice. In the other prisons, juveniles were incarcerated with adults. The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from convicted prisoners; however, many prisons could not comply with this law due to lack of space and inadequate facilities

The Inspectorate of Prisons, domestic NGOs, and international NGOs were permitted to make visits to monitor prison conditions without government interference. NGOs reported good collaboration with prison authorities. During the year, NGOs visited many of the prisons; however, unlike in the previous year, there were no formal visits by the Prison Reform Committee.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides the accused the rights to challenge the legality of detention, to have access to legal counsel, and to be released on bail or informed of charges by a court of law within 48 hours; however, these rights seldom were respected in practice. The use of temporary remand warrants was widespread and used to circumvent the 48-hour rule. Police often resorted to beatings to obtain information deemed necessary to their cases (see Section 1.c.). In cases where the court determined that a defendant could not afford to supply his own counsel, legal services were provided by the Government. With few persons able to afford legal counsel, the country's seven public defenders could not represent all indigent detainees in a timely manner. Bail frequently was granted to reduce prison overcrowding. Its use often bore only a tenuous relationship to the merits of an individual's situation.

The prison system was meant to accommodate 4,500 inmates; however, during the year, there were 8,784 inmates, of whom 2,608 were pretrial detainees. There were 396 juveniles among the inmates of whom 163 were pretrial detainees. There were 89 women in prison and 39 were pretrial detainees. In July President Muluzi pardoned a woman who gave birth in prison after her story was highlighted in the press. Police were accused of arbitrary arrests due to political motives.

During the year, a priest was arrested for possession of seditious material (see Section 2.a.)

In September police arrested the regional governor for the Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (MAFUNDE) opposition party for honking his car horn in protest of a constitutional amendment to allow for three consecutive presidential terms (see Section 2.b.).

The Government did not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the judicial system was inefficient and was handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor record keeping, a shortage of attorneys and trained personnel, a heavy caseload, and a lack of resources. In August court operations were affected by a judicial support staff strike demanding better working conditions (see Section 6.b.). Human rights organizations widely criticized the strike because it increased prison congestion and denied many persons access to the courts.

The Constitution provides for a High Court, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and subordinate magistrate courts. The Chief Justice is appointed by the President and confirmed by the National Assembly. The President appoints other justices, following a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission. All justices are appointed until the age of 65 and may be removed only for reasons of incompetence or misbehavior, as determined by the President and a majority of the Parliament.

In November 2001, members of the UDF ruling party submitted motions in the National Assembly to impeach three High Court justices on allegations of judicial misconduct and incompetence. The National Assembly curtailed the Judicial Service Commission investigation into the cases and voted in favor of removal of the three justices. In December 2001, the President dropped all charges against one justice and ordered the Judicial Service Commission to reconvene to complete its assessment of the allegations against the remaining two justices. On May 7, President Muluzi pardoned the remaining two justices.

By law defendants have the right to a public trial but not to a trial by jury; however, in murder cases, the High Court used juries of 12 persons from the defendant's home district. Defendants also were entitled to an attorney, the right to present and challenge evidence and witnesses, and the right of appeal. However, the judiciary's budgetary and administrative problems effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants. During the year, the Department of Public Prosecutions had 7 prosecuting attorneys and 11 paralegals. The paralegals served as lay prosecutors and prosecuted minor cases in the magistrate courts. Lack of funding and a shortage of attorneys created a backlog mainly in murder cases. In September, with funding from donors, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) stated that his office would prosecute 200 murder cases by December, and a total of 103 cases had been completed by year's end.

In April the High Court conducted a weeklong workshop for magistrates on laws related to corrupt practices. In June another training workshop was held on gender sensitization for magistrates and led to the drafting and publication of a manual for use by magistrate courts.

The 2000 amendment to the law provided for an expansion of the civil jurisdiction of magistrates, simplified small claims procedures, and gave magistrate courts jurisdiction over customary marriages. The amended law permitted more cases to be handled by magistrate courts that in the past had been referred to the High Court.

Juvenile offenders have special rights under the Constitution, including the right to be separated in custody from adults, to be treated in a manner that recognizes their age and the possibility for rehabilitation, and to be exempt from the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. However, the protections they are accorded in principle often were denied in practice, and many juvenile offenders were incarcerated with adults (see Section 1.c.).

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits such actions; however, the Government at times infringed on these rights. Army and police forces, in carrying out sweeps for illegal weapons, did not always obtain search warrants as required by law.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were some exceptions. Limited self-censorship existed.

In September the President publicly criticized two opposition newspapers during a political rally for "irresponsible journalism." He criticized the Daily Times for reporting the comments of a local NGO representative that contradicted statements made by the President. The Chronicle was also criticized for attempting to incite civil unrest after an article was published quoting a letter by a group in the Malawi Muslim community that threatened "jihad" against Christians.

In October a ruling UDF parliamentarian assaulted a journalist on the premises of the National Assembly. The Speaker of the National Assembly announced his office would launch a formal inquiry on the matter; however, there were no results reported by year's end.

There were no further developments since the completion in August 2001 of a 2-year review of the Censorship Act by the Law Commission.

In June a Catholic priest was arrested in Kasungu for possession of seditious material. The priest had documents opposing the constitutional amendment to eliminate presidential term limits that he was translating into the local language. On June 17, he was released on bail, and there was no new information regarding the case by year's end.

In December 2001, a prominent businessman who is a member of "Concerned Citizens of Malawi" and the opposition pressure group NDA was arrested on charges of sedition. He reportedly wrote more than 100 letters criticizing government policy, the President's alleged shortcomings, and deteriorating democratic standards in the country. In April the High Court acquitted the businessman.

A broad spectrum of political and ideological opinion was available in the country's two dozen newspapers and usually without government interference. However, the Government continued to threaten and harass members of the media. For example, on May 20, the then Minister of State Responsible for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Dumbo Lemani, led a march by ruling UDF supporters to the Blantyre Newspapers Company, publishers of the two independent newspapers, The Daily Times and weekly Malawi News. The marchers threatened journalists who had written articles that opposed a bill to amend the Constitution to abolish term limits for the President.

The May 2001 case against a journalist, a printer, and four newspaper vendors who were arrested for distributing an edition of The Dispatch newspaper, which contained articles that the Government stated would "cause public fear and alarm," still was pending at year's end. The Dispatch newspaper has not published since the arrests.

The state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) dominated the radio market with its two stations, transmitting in major population centers throughout the country. News coverage and editorial content clearly were progovernment. In 2000 four employees of MBC allegedly were suspended due to insufficient loyalty to the ruling party. The Office of the Ombudsman began an investigation of the incident; however, the High Court ruled that the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction on labor related matters. The Ombudsman appealed to the Supreme Court, and in April the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Ombudsman to proceed with the investigations. The investigation was ongoing at year's end.

There were 10 private radio stations; all broadcasting on FM frequencies with limited coverage and only in urban areas. There were two commercial stations broadcasting in Blantyre. There was a rural community radio station run by local women with the help of the Malawi Media Women's Association. In May 2001, the Malawi Institute of Journalism opened a private training-commercial radio station. Six religious stations broadcast in the capital and other major cities. Government-owned Television Malawi (MBC-TV) was the country's sole television broadcaster.

In violation of the law, the MBC consistently denied opposition candidates equal access to the media during the 1999 presidential and parliamentary election campaigns and the 2000 local government campaigns. In contrast slogans and songs of the ruling UDF party advertising upcoming political rallies were broadcast throughout the year. The Government limited television broadcasting with editorial control similar to that on MBC radio.

The Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority, an independent regulatory body, issued broadcasting licenses for radio, television, and Internet service providers (ISP). The Government split the state-owned Malawi Posts and Telecommunication Corporation into the Malawi Posts Corporation and the Malawi Telecommunications Limited in preparation for the privatization of MTL. There were two cellular telephone service providers and nine ISPs. On September 13, a third cellular telephone license was awarded.

The Government did not restrict academic freedom. In November 2001, police officers searched the home of a Chancellor College Professor on suspicion that he was in possession of documents that were "likely to cause a breach of peace." No documents were found, and no action was taken against the responsible police officers by year's end.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, there were instances in which police limited this right.

Authorities routinely granted official permits, which are required by law for large meetings; however, in August police reportedly refused to grant opposition leaders permission to hold political rallies. Police cancelled the opposition MAFUNDE rallies in the southern region of the country citing potential violence between MAFUNDE and UDF party supporters. There were reports that police also cancelled rallies by the Malawi Congress Party.

In May President Muluzi issued a ban on all demonstrations related to a constitutional amendment bill to abolish presidential term limits. In June armed police in Blantyre stopped a public debate about the bill. On September 15, President Muluzi renewed the ban; however, on September 24, ruling UDF supporters demonstrated in the streets of Blantyre in support of President Muluzi's third-term bid despite the ban. No police action was taken against the demonstrators. On September 17, a member of MAFUNDE was arrested in Mzuzu for sounding his car horn in opposition to the constitutional amendment bill. He was charged with "conduct likely to cause breach of peace." On September 19, he was granted bail; however, when his trial began on October 29, the charges had been amended to a traffic violation for "excessive use of a car horn." He was acquitted of all charges on November 21. On October 22, the High Court ruled the President's ban on demonstrations unconstitutional.

In November police used tear gas to disperse forcibly a demonstration in Blantyre organized by the Forum for the Defense of the Constitution (FDC) to protest a constitutional amendment to allow for three consecutive presidential terms. Violence erupted when members of the ruling UDF party attacked the FDC demonstrators.

In August violent clashes between supporters of the UDF and NDA resulted in the death of a UDF party official. On August 28, the Government issued an ultimatum to the NDA to register as a political party or risk an official government ban as an organization that promotes violence and subversion under section 64 of the Penal Code. The NDA contested the constitutionality of ultimatum in the High Court, and on September 15, the President extended the deadline for complying with the ultimatum to December. The High Court would not rule on the case until the deadline for registration had been missed by the NDA, and NDA representatives have publicly said that they plan to register the NDA as a party in January 2003.

In December 2001, police forcibly dispersed a student demonstration at Chancellor College in Zomba, which resulted in one death and one injury. The Joint Commission established by police and college representatives in December 2001 investigated the incident and in January referred a report to the University of Malawi's central office for review. No further actions were reported by year's end.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government respected this right in practice. The Government required organizations, including political parties, to register with the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice. Although no political party has been denied registration, the Government threatened to deregister the Malawi Forum for Unity and Development for using Malawi in its official name, which is a protected word under the law. However, on September 2, the Government granted approval of the use of Malawi in the party's name.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There were no separate requirements for the recognition of religions, but religious groups must register with the Government. There were no reports that the Government refused to register any religious group during the year.

Some opposition politicians and clerics have raised Islam as a political issue. Citing the President's adherence to Islam, his contact with Islamic countries such as Libya, Iran, and Sudan, and the building of new mosques, some opposition politicians and clerics have accused the UDF of attempting to "Islamicize" the country.

Foreign Christian missionaries experienced occasional delays in renewing employment permits; however, this appeared to be the result of bureaucratic inefficiency rather than a deliberate government policy against foreign missionaries. Missionaries and charitable workers pay lower fees for employment permits than do other professionals.

There were generally amicable relations between the various religious communities; however, there were a small number of reports of clashes between Muslims and Christians.

In February the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) filed a complaint with the Religious Affairs Coordinator for the Office of President and Cabinet regarding the activities of a Christian missionary group in Mangochi district. The MAM accused the Christian group of entering mosques to convert Muslims to Christianity and of disseminating inflammatory publications about Islam. On February 22, the Religious Affairs Coordinator attempted to convene a forum with MAM, the Malawi Council of Churches, and leaders of the missionary group to discuss a peaceful resolution to the problem; however, the meeting was cancelled due to a lack of funding. In April the same missionary group contacted the Religious Affairs Coordinator, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, and the local Mangochi district police to report that they heard that the Muslim community in Mangochi district planned to harm them; however, there were no reports that any violence occurred.

On December 18, police arrested four members of the Seventh-Day Apostolic Church in Blantyre for allegedly instigating a clash with local Muslims. On December 15, a violent dispute occurred when church members began comparing Christianity and Jesus with Islam and Mohammed in a market square. Three persons were injured and property was damaged in the clash; however, there was no further action taken by year's end."

For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol; however, there were long delays in the process. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees. According to the UNHCR, the country hosted 9,674 refugees, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi, at the country's refugee center in Dowa. The majority of refugees resided at the Dzaleka camp, and the UNHCR estimated that approximately 200 new refugees arrived each month. Although the Government granted refugee status, the law does not accept refugees for permanent resettlement and does not permit them to work or study; however, while no legal framework existed, the Government allowed refugees to seek both employment and educational opportunities. UNHCR, NGOs, and the Government collaborated to provide children in refugee camps with access to education. A new school was completed at the Dowa refugee camp in 2001.

The country has provided first asylum to numerous refugees and continued to provide first asylum to new refugees as required. Asylum applicants were granted hearings to make their case for asylum status. The Government denied asylum to many of the Rwandans and Congolese who either had requested asylum in another country or had the opportunity to do so.

There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age and older. International election observers found the 1999 presidential and parliamentary elections to be free and substantially fair; however, the electoral process was flawed, as opposition access to the broadcast media was limited; there were voter registration problems in some areas of the country; and the Electoral Commission at times displayed bias in favor of the ruling party. President Muluzi was reelected to serve a second 5-year term, defeating Gwanda Chakuamba, the joint presidential candidate of the two leading opposition parties, the MCP and AFORD. The opposition challenged the outcome of the presidential vote, and in May 2000, the High Court ruled in favor of the President. In October 2000, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling in favor of the President.

President Muluzi, First Vice President Justin Malewezi, and a 38-member cabinet exercise executive authority. The second vice-presidency remained vacant. The executive exerted considerable influence over the legislature; the legislature followed a hybrid parliamentary system, and consequently a number of Cabinet ministers also sit as Members of Parliament (M.P.'s).

On August 27, senior UDF officials stated that a constitutional amendment bill to allow the President to seek three consecutive terms would be introduced in the October session of Parliament. On September 6, the Government announced officially that it would introduce the bill in Parliament; however, the bill was neither introduced nor withdrawn in its entirety, and there was no action taken on the bill by year's end. President Muluzi banned all demonstrations relating to this amendment (see Section 2.b.).

Local government elections to select councilors and mayors, as mandated under the law, were held in November 2000, and were conducted in an open and transparent manner according to local and international observers; however, they were marked by low voter turnout, allegations of voter and candidate intimidation, and unequal access to the media. The ruling UDF won more than 70 percent of the seats; opposition parties and some NGOs criticized the Government for manipulating the process.

Although the Government did not prevent the operation of opposition political parties, the parties continued to allege that the Government used bribery and other inducements, including violence, to encourage opposition party divisions and defections of key personnel to the ruling party. In July the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) began investigations of some opposition M.P.'s who allegedly were bribed to vote in favor of the constitutional amendment bill to abolish presidential term limits. The investigations were ongoing, and no indictments had been made against any political figures at year's end.

During the year, the authorities were accused of refusing to grant opposition leaders permission to hold political rallies (see Section 2.b.).

There were no laws that restricted the participation of women or ethnic minorities in the political process. There were 17 women in the 193-seat National Assembly, and there were 8 women in the 38-member Cabinet. Women were approximately 25 percent of the civil service. There were 2 women justices among the 22 Supreme and High Court justices. During the 1999 presidential and parliamentary elections, approximately 55 percent of registered voters were women.

A citizen of European origin, several citizens of mixed ethnicity, and one citizen of Asian origin were members of the National Assembly.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, training civic educators, advocating changes to existing laws and cultural practices, and investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

The Ombudsman was mandated by the Constitution to investigate and take legal action against government officials responsible for human rights violations and other abuses. The Ombudsman's freedom of action was circumscribed by legislation that requires a warrant and a 3-day waiting period to gain access to certain government records. The activities of the Ombudsman were subject to judicial review, and in a 2000 case involving MBC employees allegedly dismissed on political grounds, the Supreme Court upheld a constitutional provision that granted the Ombudsman discretionary authority to investigate any and all cases where it was alleged that a person has suffered injustices, except when there was a judicial remedy available (see Section 2.a.).

The Constitution provides for a National Compensation Tribunal (NCT) to adjudicate claims of criminal and civil liability against the former government. As of September, the NCT had registered more than 23,000 claims, of which 600 had been compensated fully and 7,000 had been awarded interim compensation payments. The NCT's original constitutional mandate did not permit the registration of new claimants after December 31, 2001 deadline; however, during the year, the registration deadline was extended until July 13, 2003. The extension of the deadline for registration could impact seriously NCT's estimated $300 million (MK 24 billion) budget to cover 16,000 claims for 10 years. The NCT's lack of funds limited its ability to settle claims.

The constitutionally mandated HRC was charged to monitor, audit, and promote human rights provided for under the Constitution, and to carry out investigations regarding violations of any human rights. Despite limited resources, in September 2001, the HRC issued its 2000 Human Rights Report, which described 172 complaints of human rights violations such as overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons, lack of proper medical attention to sick prisoners, political violence during the Kasungu by-elections, long periods of pretrial detention, and the lack of opposition access to the media during elections. The Government has refuted publicly the report's findings. In August and September, HRC conducted public hearings in major cities on political and religious intolerance. Both human rights groups and political leaders acknowledged that political violence had increased during the year. The 2001 HRC report was still in draft form at year's end.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution specifically provides for equal rights for women, forbids discrimination based on language or culture, and provides for equality and recognition before the law for every citizen; however, in practice the capacity of government institutions to assure equal rights for all citizens was limited.


Domestic violence, especially wife beating, was common. Society has begun to take the problem of violence against women seriously. The press published frequent accounts of rape and abuse, and the judiciary continued to impose heavier penalties on those convicted of rape. However, domestic violence seldom was discussed openly by women. In April 2001, an NGO in Lilongwe established the country's first confidential shelter for women who were victims of physical or sexual abuse. Between April and December 2001, 72 women sought protection at the shelter. Police did not normally intervene in domestic disputes.

Press coverage of domestic violence increased substantially following a November 2001 conference called "Sixteen Days of Activism" sponsored by NGOs in cooperation with the Ministry of Gender and Community Service. NGOs sponsored subsequent workshops to inform local tribal leaders and journalists of the importance of legislation against domestic violence with a specific focus on spousal rape.

There was anecdotal evidence that a few small ethnic groups practiced female genital mutilation (FGM).

Trafficking in women and girls was a problem (see Section 6.f.).

Under the Constitution, women have the right to full and equal protection by law and may not be discriminated against on the basis of gender or marital status; however, in practice discrimination against women was pervasive, and women did not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, and access to resources to increase agricultural productivity. The literacy rate among women between the ages of 15 and 45 was less than 37 percent. Male literacy in the same age group was approximately 45 percent.

Women often had less access to legal and financial assistance, and wives often were victims of discriminatory inheritance practices in which the majority of the estate was taken unlawfully by the deceased husband's family. Women usually were at a disadvantage in marriage, family, and property rights, but they have begun to speak out against abuse and discrimination. Households headed by women were represented disproportionately in the lowest quarter of income distribution. In a country where 85 percent of the population was rural, the majority of farmers were women; 70 percent of the rural female population farm full time. Typically women worked more hours than men to complete the same farm tasks because they rarely had comparable tools and equipment, and they remained responsible for all household tasks. Women had limited access to agricultural extension services, training, and credit. Some progress has been made in all of these areas with gender training for agricultural extension workers and the gradual introduction of rural credit programs for women. The participation of women in the limited formal labor market was particularly constrained; they constituted less than 5 percent of managerial and administrative staff.

The law provides for a minimum level of child support, widows' rights, and the right to maternity leave; however, only individuals who utilized the formal legal system benefited from these legal protections.

In 2000 women joined the army for the first time in noncombatant positions as a result of a 1994 revision in the government directive that previously had prohibited women from military service. The Government commissioned a female officer in August 2001, and during the year, there were new recruit classes of women, who were serving both as officers and as enlisted personnel in the armed forces. Female soldiers may only be deployed in combat as support personnel, such as in the communications field.

The Government addressed women's concerns through the Ministry of Gender and Community Services.


The Constitution provides for equal treatment of children under the law, and during the year, the Government continued a high level of spending on children's health and welfare. The Government provided free primary education for all children, although education was not compulsory. Girls dropped out of school more frequently than boys did, and in the final year of primary school, 42 percent of students were girls. Despite recent significant gains in girls' access to education, large gaps remained between girls' and boys' achievement levels. Girls, especially in rural areas, historically had been unable to complete even a primary education and were therefore at a serious disadvantage in finding employment. Accepted economic and social practice hampered the ability of women and girls to gain an education. However, there were signs of improvement in education for girls. The 2002 Malawi Demographic Household and Education Data Survey's preliminary report indicated that there was not a large gender gap in primary school attendance between boys and girls; however, in secondary school the boys were more likely to attend than girls.

Well over half of the country's children live in poverty, mostly in rural areas. Children in rural households headed by women were among the poorest. Only one-third of children had easy access to safe drinking water. Infant mortality was high, and child malnutrition was a serious problem. A few charitable organizations attempted to reduce the number of child beggars in urban areas and find alternative care for them. The problem of street children worsened as the number of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS increased. According to the National Statistic Office's Demographic and Health Survey of 2000, only 60 percent of children under age 15 lived with both of their biological parents; 23 percent of children under age 15 lived with only one parent, while 16 percent were orphans. Extended family members normally cared for such children and other orphans.

FGM was performed on girls (see Section 5, Women).

There were societal patterns of abuse of children. The media also reported on the sexual abuse of children, especially in relation to traditional practices of initiation. While rites to initiate girls into their future adult roles still were secret, information suggested that abusive practices were widespread and quite damaging.

Child prostitution occurred (see Section 6.f.).

Persons with Disabilities

The Government has not mandated accessibility to buildings and services for persons with disabilities, but one of the national goals in the Constitution is to support persons with disabilities through greater access to public places, fair opportunities in employment, and full participation in all spheres of society. There were both public and privately supported schools and training centers, which assisted persons with disabilities. There also were several self-supporting businesses run by and for persons with disabilities. The Minister of State responsible for persons with disabilities was a cabinet-level position, which was held by a person with disabilities.

In December 2001, the Ministry responsible for persons with disabilities held a consultative workshop with representatives from NGOs and U.N. agencies to create a taskforce for the formulation of a new National Disability Policy (NDP). The draft NDP incorporated the views of interested parties and was awaiting review by various government ministries. The taskforce was charged with the development of a new NDP that addressed issues of equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law governs labor-management relations. Workers have the legal right to form and join trade unions; however, union membership was low due to the small percentage of the work force in the formal sector, the lack of awareness of worker rights and benefits, and a resistance on the part of many employees to join unions. Army personnel and police could not belong to trade unions, but other civil servants were allowed to form unions. Union leaders estimated that 12 percent of the formal sector workforce belonged to unions; however, accurate statistics on the numbers of union members were not available. Trade union rights have existed for 9 years, and labor relations still were evolving. Employers, labor unions, and the Government lacked sufficient knowledge of their legitimate roles in labor relations and disputes, which limited the effectiveness in the implementation and enforcement of the law; however the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) charged that trade union rights were also limited by the resistance of some employers, including the Government, to respect these rights.

Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers' Organizations in the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT). At year's end, 22 unions were registered. There were no unusually difficult registration procedures. Unions were independent of the Government, parties, and other political forces.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and requires that employers reinstate workers dismissed because of union activities. However, the ICFTU 2002 Annual Survey stated that District Education Officers were fired for their membership in the Teachers' Union of Malawi. The same survey said companies in the export processing zones (EPZs) were also resistant to union activity and that unions said they have little access to workers in the zones. Enforcement of legislation protecting the freedom of association by the Ministry of Labor was ineffective.

Unions may form or join federations and have the right to affiliate with and participate in international workers' organizations, with the permission of the Government. There were no restrictions on the number of union federations. There were two federations in the country: The Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), with 19 affiliates; and the Congress of Malawi Trade Unions (COMATU), with 3 affiliates.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The law requires that at least 20 percent of employees (excluding senior managerial staff) belong to a union before such a union can engage in collective bargaining at the enterprise level. The law requires at least 15 percent union membership for collective bargaining at the sector level. The law provides for the establishment of industrial councils in the absence of collective agreements for sector-level bargaining. Industrial council functions included wage negotiation, dispute resolution, and industry-specific labor policy development. The law was not implemented effectively in practice due to the lack of sufficient knowledge of the law by employers, trade unions, and government officials (see Section 6.a.). In 2001 the National Bank of Malawi unilaterally abrogated an agreement with the Commercial, Industrial and Allied Workers' Union. Collective agreements were binding legally, and both parties must deposit them with the Registrar of Trade Unions.

The law allows members of a registered union to strike or go through a formal mediation process overseen by the MOLVT. A registered union must attempt to resolve the issue through mediation. A strike can only occur after all settlement procedures established in a collective agreement (an understanding, not necessarily signed, reached by both parties to attempt mediation) and conciliation efforts have failed. The law requires a notice in writing to the employer and the MOLVT at least 7 days before a strike. The law also forbids the temporary replacement of labor and allows peaceful picketing during strikes. Members of a registered union in "essential services" only have a limited right to strike. Essential services were specified as services whose interruption would endanger the life, health, or personal safety of the whole or part of the population; they were determined by the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) upon application by the Minister of Labor. The law provides similar procedures for lockouts. Laws do not prohibit specifically retaliation against strikers. There was no prohibition on actions against unions that were not registered legally. Arbitration rulings were enforceable legally. However, due to the lack of funding and 2-year case backlog, the IRC could not monitor cases and enforce the laws in practice adequately. During the year, the IRC conducted several sensitization workshops on labor laws. The IRC also established complaint centers throughout the country to facilitate access to its services.

In August judiciary support staff began a general strike that lasted 5 weeks. The strikers called for salary and benefits increases approved by Parliament in 2000. In September an interim agreement was reached between the support staff and the judiciary to end the strike; however, negotiations between the Judiciary and Treasury were ongoing on how to fund the agreement at year's end.

In May 2001, workers at the Lilongwe Water Board went on strike over pay and management corruption. Since water is an essential service, the Government could legally requisition a core workforce to maintain service; however, the Government declared the strike illegal and instructed the Water Board to fire all 350 employees. To be reinstated, workers were required to sign a statement saying they would not strike again and to accept their existing pay and working conditions. By August 2001, most of the employees had been reinstated; however, all the elected officers of the Water Employees Trade Union of Malawi remained suspended. The employer also stopped the allotment

In September 2001, medical workers from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre went on strike after the hospital failed to grant salary increases that it promised to begin in July 2001. The hospital negotiated an initial settlement for a risk premium increase, and the 28 leaders of the strike were suspended and restricted from travel outside the country pending prosecution for endangering the health and welfare of patients. During the year, a total of 15 employees were indicted for conducting an illegal strike. In May the Office of the Ombudsman intervened in the case, and the case concluded in November when 10 employees were terminated for an illegal strike while 5 were permitted to return to their previous positions. All travel restrictions were lifted.

In October 2001, teachers began a series of sporadic strikes and work stoppages because of the differences between rural and urban salaries and benefits. During the year, differences in allowances were corrected. In January the Minister of Education threatened to punish any teacher who instigated a strike since the Government implemented the new allowances. There were reports that up to 50,000 teachers participated in the 2001 strikes in the rural areas.

At year's end, 20 firms held licenses to operate under EPZ status, and all were operational. The full range of labor regulations applied to the EPZs; however union organizers said they had little access to workers in the zones. According to the ICFTU, workers in EPZs were not able to exercise their trade union rights.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children; however, there were allegations that some large agricultural estates engaged in the practice, and one local NGO reported that in urban areas, it was common to find young girls working outside of their family as domestic servants, receiving little or no wages, and living in a state of indentured servitude (see Section 6.d.). According to the ICFTU, bonded labor involving entire families was widespread on tobacco plantations. Tobacco tenants have exclusive arrangements, often unwritten with the estate owners to sell their crop and to buy inputs such as fertilizer, seed, and often food. These costs, in addition to rent charges, often were greater the artificially low price received for the tobacco crop, leading to a situation of debt and bonded labor to repay the input and other costs

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Constitution defines children as persons under 16 years of age, and the law prohibits the employment of persons less than 14 years of age. It also prohibits the employment of children less than 18 years of age in work that was hazardous, harmful, or interferes with their education. Significant child labor in agricultural work and domestic service occurred largely as a result of extreme poverty and longstanding cultural traditions. Budgetary constraints largely precluded minimum work age and child labor law enforcement by police and MOLVT inspectors. There was significant child labor on tobacco and tea farms, subsistence farms, and in domestic service. There was no special legal restriction on children's work hours.

In 2000 the Ministry of Labor began a 12-month International Labor Organization (ILO) funded study to establish the magnitude of child labor and to use the results as a basis for drafting an action plan to implement ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. In 2001 MOLVT conducted a pilot study and trained evaluators for the full study, which started in May. The study was expected to be finished by the first quarter of 2003.

During the year, there was at least one report of forced child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The MOLVT set separate urban and rural minimum wage rates based on recommendations of the Tripartite Wage Advisory Board (TWAB) composed of representatives of labor, government, and the private sector. However, the TWAB encountered problems due to inefficient organizational structure and inadequate funding, which hindered timely and accurate revision of the wage rate recommendations. The urban minimum wage amounted to approximately $0.70 (MK 56) per day; in all other areas, it was approximately $0.50 (MK 40) per day. Although minimum wage rates were raised in 2000, they did not provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Wage earners tended to supplement their incomes through farming activities. The MOLVT lacked the resources to enforce the minimum wage effectively. However, the minimum wage largely was irrelevant for the great majority of citizens, who earned their livelihood outside the formal wage sector.

The maximum legal workweek was 48 hours, with a mandatory weekly 24-hour rest period. The laws require payment for overtime work and prohibit compulsory overtime. In practice employers frequently violated statutory time restrictions.

The law includes extensive occupational health and safety standards. Enforcement of these standards by the MOLVT was erratic. Workers--particularly in industrial jobs--often worked without basic safety clothing and equipment. Workers dismissed for filing complaints about workplace conditions have the right to file a complaint at the labor office or sue the employer for wrongful dismissal. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment; however, given the low level of education of most workers and the high level of unemployment, they were unlikely to exercise this right.

Mechanisms for protecting internationally recognized worker rights were weak. There were serious manpower shortages at the Ministry of Labor; as a result, there were almost no labor standards inspections.

The law protects foreign workers in correct legal status. Illegal foreign workers were subject to deportation.

According to the Government "policy statement and new guidelines" for the issuance and renewal of employment permits (the temporary employment permit or "TEP"), foreign investors may employ foreign personnel in areas where there was a shortage of "suitable and qualified" citizens. The guidelines also mandated that processing times for TEP applications shall not exceed 40 working days. Although the TEP program appeared to function smoothly, the press reported delays in application processing for at least one major company.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons specifically, and there were reports of trafficking. The Penal Code contains several provisions relating to prostitution and indecency that could be used to prosecute traffickers; however, there were no arrests or prosecutions of suspected traffickers during the year.

Although the age of sexual consent is 14, there was no age specified for the protection of minors from sexual exploitation, child prostitution, or child pornography. The belief that children were unlikely to be HIV positive and the widespread belief that sexual intercourse with virgins can cleanse an individual of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, contributed to the sexual exploitation of minors. Child prostitution occurred, but it was not considered a significant problem.

In October 2001, a bill was introduced in the National Assembly that proposed 14-year sentences for anyone convicted of promoting, managing, or transporting any person into or out of the country with the purpose of engaging that person in prostitution. The National Assembly deferred the bill during the October session for further review.

It was believed that Malawian women were trafficked to South Africa and Europe. For example, in 2001 the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Community Services, the lead ministry on trafficking issues, reported seven cases of women being trafficked to South Africa and Netherlands to engage in prostitution after being lured by false job offers. Efforts to repatriate the seven women were unsuccessful due to a lack of resources. There was no indication of any police investigation of trafficking cases during the year.

The extent of the trafficking problem was undocumented, and neither the Government nor NGOs viewed it as a significant problem. There was scant media attention, and there was only one NGO focusing education campaigns on the problem of trafficking during the year. The police and the Ministry of Gender and Community Services handled any cases that arose.

There was no government funding for NGO services to victims of trafficking, and there was no training for government officials on how to provide assistance to trafficking victims.

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Malawi 2020

Human rights defenders were intimidated, harassed and arbitrarily arrested. The independence of the judiciary remained under attack from the executive. Prisons were overcrowded and conditions poor. Attacks against people with albinism continued.


Following mass protests against the controversial presidential elections in 2019 which saw President Mutharika re-elected, the Constitutional Court annulled the results in February and called for fresh elections within 150 days, as well as for reforms to the Electoral Commission Act. The elections took place in June and a new President was elected.

In March, the government declared a state of disaster in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Government of Malawi maintained its progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the last year. Malawi prohibits all forms of trafficking through various laws, including the Employment Act and Articles 135 through 147 and 257 through 269 of the Penal Code, though the country lacks specific anti-trafficking laws. The penalties prescribed under these statutes range from small fines to 10 years' imprisonment these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes. For a second year, the draft Child Care, Protection and Justice Bill, which defines child trafficking and imposes a penalty of life imprisonment for convicted traffickers, remained in the government's Cabinet and was not passed by Parliament. Also for a second year, the Malawi Law Commission did not complete drafting comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation specifically outlawing all forms of human trafficking. Local law enforcement agencies in Malawi only keep written record of their activities, which are not consolidated at any central record facility. Data on nationwide statistics was not available, though some individual districts provided data on their specific activities. In 2009, the Magistrate's Court in the district of Mchinji on the Zambian border prosecuted five trafficking offenders on criminal charges and convicted four. In one case involving 14 child victims of labor trafficking, three offenders were sentenced to seven years of hard labor, one was fined $33, and one was acquitted. The Mchinji court convicted a trafficker caught while transporting 59 children to Zambia to be exploited in forced labor, and sentenced him to five years in prison. The government also prosecuted and convicted 34 trafficking offenders for exploiting children in forced farm labor. Each was fined $131, which is approximately one-third of the average annual income in Malawi. Police, child protection, social welfare, and other officials received training in how to recognize, investigate, and prosecute instances of trafficking either directly from the government or in partnership with NGOs. The Ministry of Labor incorporated a child protection curriculum into labor inspector training. Requests to work with other governments are handled on an ad hoc, informal basis, especially between district officials in Mchinji and officials across the Zambian border. The Anti-Corruption Bureau's investigation, begun in 2007, into two complaints of government corruption relating to trafficking was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. [1]

The Malawi government maintained its efforts to ensure that victims were provided access to appropriate services, and provided in-kind support to NGO service providers. Malawi continued to depend heavily on foreign donors and NGOs to fund and operate most of the country's anti-trafficking programs. This past year, it provided technical and coordination assistance to NGOs and helped set project guidelines. In Dedza district, police rescued 14 Malawian and 10 Mozambican child victims of labor trafficking. The government provided law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel with basic training in identifying victims of trafficking, though it has not yet established systematic procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, especially persons in the commercial sex trade. Government personnel sustained partnerships with NGOs to connect their local programs with government labor inspectors, child protection officers, district social welfare officers, the police, and district child protection committees. The government funded one rehabilitation drop-in center in Lilongwe for victims of trafficking and gender-based violence. The center did not keep specific records of trafficking victims that it may have assisted. Over 100 police stations throughout the country housed victim support units to respond to gender-based violence and trafficking crimes. These units provided limited counseling and, in some places, temporary shelter, though the capacity to identify and assist victims varied greatly among stations. Inter-ministerial child protection committees monitored their districts for suspicious behavior which might indicate trafficking activity. Overall, the government encouraged victims' participation in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes and did not inappropriately incarcerate, fine, or otherwise penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. [1]

The government sustained its efforts to prevent human trafficking and raise public awareness of the crime in 2009. An inter-ministerial task force on human trafficking, led by the Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Development, forged a partnership with international organizations and NGOs and began drafting a national plan of action which is not yet complete. Addressing child trafficking is also the responsibility of both the National Steering Committee on Orphans and Vulnerable Children and the National Steering Committee on Child Labor. Uneven levels of expertise and inadequate inter-agency coordination at national and district levels interfered with the effectiveness of these committees in preventing child trafficking. Through the National Aids Commission's Action Framework on HIV/AIDS Prevention, the government sensitized communities to the dangers of commercial sexual exploitation and attempted to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The Malawi Defense Force provided training on human rights, child protection, and the elimination of sexual exploitation to its nationals deployed abroad as part of peacekeeping missions. [1]

Claiming Human Rights

The Republic of Malawi is a member of the United Nations and the African Union. It has ratified many UN Human Rights Conventions (compare list on the right) and thus has made binding international commitments to adhere to the standards laid down in these universal human rights documents.

Malawi is an English- and Chichewa-speaking country in Southeast Africa. It is a landlocked, middle-sized country with an area of 118,484 square km. On a global scale, its population density is high. The capital of the country, which became independent on 6 July 1964 from the United Kingdom, is Lilongwe. Malawi is a member of the regional economic communities SADC and COMESA.

With a Human Development Index of 0.49 Malawi ranks 160 th of 182 countries ranked in the UNDP Human Development Report of 2009. Life expectancy of the 14.3 million inhabitants at birth is 48 years, population growth is 2.5 percent per year. GNI is 290 US-$ per capita. External debt is 24.6 percent of gross national income. Primary school enrolment is 87.0 percent.

In as far as Malawi has ratified the Optional Protocols for UN Human Rights Conventions or has accepted the Competence of the corresponding UN Treaty Bodies (compare list on the right), the inhabitants of Malawi and their representatives are able to invoke their human rights through these bodies.

All inhabitants of Malawi may turn to the UN Human Rights Committee through procedure 1503, to the Special Rapporteurs for violations of specific human rights or to ECOSOC for women's rights violations.

Since Malawi is a member state of UNESCO, its citizens may use the UNESCO procedure for human rights violations in UNESCO's fields of mandate.

Employers' or workers' and certain other organizations (not individuals) of Malawi may file complaints through the ILO procedure in the cases of those conventions which Malawi has ratified.

Since Malawi is an AU member, its citizens and NGOs may file complaints to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

They may also file complaints according to the EU guidelines (on Human Rights Defenders, Death Penalty and Torture) to Embassies of EU Member States and the Delegations of the European Commission.

In cases of human rights violations by multinational enterprises, they may also invoke the National Contact Point in an OECD member state.

Malawi has joined the International Criminal Court, it may thus be called upon in case of severe crimes.

  • Region: Africa
  • Population: 18 million (2018)
  • Area: 118,500 square kilometres
  • Capital: Lilongwe
  • Joined Commonwealth: 1964, following independence from Britain
  • Commonwealth Youth Index: 44 out of 49 countries

Human rights

The Commonwealth Small States Office in Geneva helped Malawi engage with UN organisations, including the Human Rights Council.

The Secretariat helped the Malawi Human Rights Commission mobilise traditional leaders and young people.

Legal education

The Secretariat worked with Malawi to establish the Malawi Institute for Legal Education to provide vocational training for Malawian lawyers.


The Secretariat is helping the Malawi government fight corruption. One strategy is to publicise bids and contracts when it buys goods and services.


The Secretariat helped the University of Malawi and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources develop and deliver youth work skills and qualifications.


In 2018, the Secretariat helped Malawi develop, negotiate and implement trade policies and agreements. In March 2018, the Commonwealth worked with Malawi to review and design a National Export Strategy.

Connectivity Agenda

Malawi is a member of the Physical, Digital, Regulatory and Supply Side Connectivity clusters of the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda. The Connectivity Agenda is a platform for countries to exchange best practices and experiences to trade and investment and undertake domestic reform.

Malawi Human Rights - History

DanChurchAid works with human rights issues through local organisations in Malawi. DanChurchAid's local partners in Malawi are mainly church-based organisations with an understanding of the situation of the poor at grass roots level, gained through a long-standing presence in the communities.
List of DanChurchAid partners:

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) was established in 1996. The objective of the commission is to create awareness and knowledge on social justice and human rights issues in order to provide a breeding ground for integrated development and peace in the country. The organisation has recently translated the Malawian Constitution into two local languages and educated local trainers who distribute the constitution in villages and educate communities on human rights. CCJP also focuses on creating networks with the government and other organisations working to improve justice, human rights, democracy and good governance. Furthermore, the organisation conducts research and counselling in justice and peace issues.

CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, Church and Society

The Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia runs the largest local NGO in the Northern Region of Malawi and has cooperated with DanChurchAid since 2002. CCAP Synod of Livingstonia works with HIV/AIDS, food security, democracy and human rights. The objective of the organisation is to improve the socio-economic status of people living in the area through sustainable church and community-based development programmes, and rights and social justice have become important aspects of the work.

CCAP Synod of Nkhoma, Church and Society

The Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Nkhoma was established in 2003 and covers 117 congregations. The synod encourages its members to engage in the social and political affairs of the nation with the aim of promoting unity and peace in the country and safeguarding the rule of law and human rights. The Synod of Nkhoma has embarked on a project aiming at strengthening the governance and respect for human rights by empowering communities to claim and demand their rights. The organisation’s activities include providing information and doing awareness raising in order to enable communities to make informed choices.

CHRR - Centre for human Rights and Rehabilitation

CHRR is one of the leading human rights organisations I Malawi. It aims at contributing towards the protection, promotion and consolidation of good governance through empowering rural and urban communities in Malawi towards awareness of and exercise of their rights through research, advocacy and networking in order to realize human development. DanChurchAid works with CHRR in a project which aims at ensuring that the marginalized poor, especially rural women, are protected and empowered to exercise and uphold their rights to participate for increases access and control of resources and services.

CSC - Christian Service Committee

Christian Service Committee (CSC) is a well-known national broadly based church NGO and DanChurchAid's oldest partner in Malawi. CSC's role within DanChurchAid's food security programme is development activities with an integrated HIV/AIDS component aimed at improving the food security situation for smallholder farmers in rural areas. The organisation mainly focuses on families affected by HIV/AIDS. CSC trains farmers in modern methods of processing and utilizing different food items and promotes the diversification of food crop and livestock production as well as sustainable natural resource management.


The NGO Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC) was founded in 2004 with the aim of promoting access to justice for women in Malawi. The organisation provides legal assistance to rural and poor urban women, information on human rights and gender issues and conducts research and documentation on law issues affecting women. WOLREC mainly works in Salima and Mzimba districts where the NGO attempts to improve the participation of women in civic and political life by equipping them with critical knowledge on gender and human rights and empowering them to be assertive. WOLREC also seeks to improve the economic status of women through setting-up small-scale businesses.


It is confirmed by overwhelming evidence that throughout history, women have also been actively participating alongside men in the broader struggle for freedom and human rights in Malawi since the colonial era.

One fascinating account of the immense contribution of women to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Malawi that is seldom talked about, is that of urban women who started to openly protest during the first half of 1991 by wearing in public the attires that were strictly prohibited by the Dress law of 1973.

Under the Dress law of 1973, women were not allowed to wear see-through clothing, have visible cleavage, trousers, or wear skirts or dresses that went above the knees. The only exception to this was at vacation resorts and country clubs where they could not be seen by the general public.

For men, the Dress Law of 1973 stipulated that the hair had to be no longer than collar length. It is reported that male visitors from other countries were given mandatory haircuts upon arrival at the airport if necessary. A man with long hair could be seized by police and subjected to an involuntary haircut.

In the first half of 1991, a number of women who defied the Dress law of 1973, were arrested, tried, convicted and duly sentenced. The Police later had to respond by expressing an outrage through the newspaper and threatened to punish any person and women in particular who dared to violate the Dress law.

In reaction to this, a monthly magazine called Moni published a letter to the editor challenging the interpretation of the Dress law by the police. The writer of the letter happened to be a law lecturer at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Zomba. Both the writer and the editor were hunted down and eventually detained for two days. They were threatened with sedition charges.

Remarkably, this was way before the pastoral letter by Catholic bishops against the human rights abuses of the one party state was issued on 8th March 1992 and also before the arrest of a veteran trade unionist Chakufwa Chihana at the airport in Lilongwe on 6th April 1992 upon his arrival back to Malawi when he openly challenged the tyrannical one party state.

One can safely conclude that this defiance by women in the urban areas marked the genesis of the debate on the Dress law that culminated to its repeal in December 1993 as part of the transition to multiparty democracy in Malawi.

Today, there are some people who tend to question whether any demonstration or protest action by the masses on any matter has ever been effective to yield positive outcomes in Malawi. This particular protest by women in the urban areas in 1991 against the Dress law leading to its repeal two years later, could be one appropriate counter example in this regard.

Malawi’s Democracy and Digital Rights Record to be Spotlighted by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations

On February 3, 2020 Malawi scored a democracy victory when the Constitutional Court nullified the May 2019 presidential elections and ordered for fresh polls within 150 days. In that time, the country will also undergo its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council, scheduled for May 2020. Whereas previous reviews did not receive elections-related recommendations, Malawi’s democratic credentials – freedom of expression, media freedom, and access to information – have come under scrutiny.

At the upcoming review, it is crucial that the country’s democratic credentials are scrutinised and recommendations to the Malawian government reflect explicitly the need to uphold rights and freedoms online and offline, in line with the state’s obligations under Articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In recent years, Malawi has made significant policy and structural reforms in the technology sector. The third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) (2017–2022), recognises Information and Communications Technology (ICT) among the five priority areas in accelerating development. The strategy aims to increase access to ICT services provide well-developed ICT broadband and infrastructure services and increase the number of ICT-skilled and industry-ready workforce in public and private sector institutions. Meanwhile, the National ICT Policy, 2013 is dedicated to promoting the use of ICT in the country, and a national fibre optic backbone project was completed in April 2018.

However, the country must commit towards ensuring a conducive environment for privacy and data protection as well as access to and affordability of the internet and related technology as key enablers of social, economic, and political development.

Freedom of expression

Article 35 of the Malawi Constitution guarantees freedom of expression while Article 36 makes provisions for a free press. Despite these enabling constitutional provisions, other legislation places restrictions on citizens’ exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

The Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act of 2016 provides for restrictions on online communications to “protect public order and national security”. The law also penalises “offensive communication” via online platforms with fines of Malawian Kwacha (MWK) 1,000,000 (USD 1,352) or a maximum 12 months prison sentence. Section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act, 2012 makes it an offence to “do any act or utter any words or publish or utter any writing calculated to insult, ridicule or to show disrespect” to the President, the national flag, armorial ensigns, the public seal or any other protected emblem or likeness. The Penal Code penalises sedition (punishable with a fine of up to MWK 354, 845 – USD Dollars 480 – and imprisonment of five years for first time offenders and seven years for subsequent offences), and libel (up to two years imprisonment).

In the previous cycle of the UPR (May 2015), the government of Malawi received three recommendations relating to freedom of expression, opinion and the press from the governments of Austria, Ghana, and Tunisia although none explicitly mentioned the online sphere. Austria and Tunisia’s recommendations to “fully investigate all cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders with a view of bringing the perpetrators to justice” and “issue a standing invitation to the special procedures of the Human Rights Council and ensure an enabling environment for the activities of journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors”, respectively were supported. However, Ghana’s recommendation to “decriminalise defamation and incorporate this into the Civil Code” was only “noted”.

Since then, there have been various instances of restrictions on freedom of expression online with notable arrests and prosecution for allegedly insulting the President and First Lady on Facebook speech against a marginalised group circulating forged documents and treason. In July 2019, the Minister of Information and Government Spokesperson warned that the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act, 2016 would be used to take punitive action against online speech viewed as denigrating to others. Furthermore, in the run up to the now annulled elections, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) issued a notice warning the public against disinformation on social media platforms. The notice stated that the regulator would “work with various stakeholders to seek ways of countering the spread of fake news.”

Freedom of information and censorship of content

Citizens’ right of access to information is provided for under Article 37 of the Constitution. The Access to Information Act of 2017 provides for the right of access to information in the custody of public bodies and relevant private bodies, as well as the processes and procedures for obtaining such information.

However the Official Secrets Act under section 4(1) prohibits disclosure of a wide range of information. The Preservation of Public Security Act (1960), under section 3 (Public Security Regulations) makes it an offense to publish anything likely to be “prejudicial to public security undermine the authority of, or the public confidence in, the government promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between any sections of classes or races of the inhabitants of Malawi or promote industrial unrest in the country.” These two outdated laws place restrictions on access to information, in addition to offenses relating to sedition and publication of false information under the Penal Code. Further, Section 46 of the Penal Code empowers the Minister of Justice to prohibit the publication or importation of any publication that he or she considers to be contrary to the public interest.

During the second cycle of the UPR, the government of Malawi received two recommendations from Norway relating to the freedom of information – “Consolidate the policy gains into legal reforms on issues such as treatment of same-sex relations and access to information” (noted) and “Prioritise public education and information as well as capacity building of state institutions as part of efforts to strengthen implementation of national human rights legislation” (supported).

Since the review, instances of restrictions to access to information online include internet outages on election day in May 2019, with reports suggesting that the disruption was ordered by the government to disrupt information flows and keep citizens un-informed during the election. On censorship of content, amidst concerns over “moral standards, values and aspirations as a nation” within the music industry, in May 2018, the Malawi Censorship Board embarked on a programme to review songs and films with “suspicious moral content” in order to “protect the rights of listeners”. In February 2019, Malawi Police arrested a musician for producing a “blasphemous song”. He was sentenced to two years in jail. According to Freedom House, “several journalists have complained that their articles are sometimes never published online or in print because their editors received directives from officials to refrain from publishing about certain topics”.

Equality and barriers to access

Section 157 of the Communications Act of 2016 mandates MACRA to establish a Universal Service Fund. In October 2019, MACRA announced that it would roll out the Universal Access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Services Project starting in 2020 to ensure universal coverage in the country, including to rural and under-served areas.

Despite these efforts, ICT adoption in Malawi remains among the lowest in the world – 25.5 mobile broadband subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants as at 2017, the most recent year International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data is available for. The Inclusive Internet Index 2019 which assesses internet availability, affordability, relevance of content and readiness ranks Malawi 98 th out of 100 countries. Malawi is currently ranked 52 out of 61 countries in internet affordability. The average monthly cost of 1GB data is MWK 3,500 (USD 4.8).

The country has maintained a 17.5% value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5% VAT on internet services and an additional 10% excise duty on mobile phone text messages and internet data transfers, introduced in 2015.

In October 2019, the government of Malawi attempted to introduce a 1% withholding tax on mobile money transactions in the 2019/20 National Budget. The proposal was withdrawn following pressure from civil society groups and the private sector.

Data protection and privacy

The right to privacy is enshrined in Section 21 of the Constitution of Malawi, which stipulates that “Every person shall have the right to personal privacy, which shall include the right not to be subject to: (a) searches of his or her person, home or property (b) the seizure of private possessions or (c) interference with private communications, including mail and all forms of telecommunications”.

Malawi does not have a standalone data protection law. In March 2018, the then Minister of ICT, Nicholas Dausi, announced plans to draft a bill on data protection in response to the changing media and technological landscape. In the meantime, The Electronic Transactions and Cybersecurity Act of 2016 which aims “to put in place mechanisms that safeguard information and communication technology users from fraud, breach of privacy, misuse of information and immoral behaviour brought by the use of information and communication technology” provides some protections. The Act provides for the processing of personal data (section 71) and the rights of data subjects (section 72) while sections 73 and 74 relate to the obligations of a data controller. Under section 84, the Act criminalises unauthorised access, interception, and modification of data with conviction attracting fines of MWK2,000,000 (USD 2,680) and imprisonment for five years. However, article 29 requires service providers to retain data and disclose it when required by courts.

There is also the Communications Act of 2016 which criminalises unlawful interception or interference, and disclosure of electronic communications (section 176), with penalties upon conviction of a fine of MWK 5,000,000 (USD 6,500) and imprisonment for five years.

Section 20(1) of the Access to Information Act of 2017 requires an information holder to notify third parties if information being requested relates to confidential or commercial interest. Third parties are required to respond in writing within 10 working days from the date of receipt of the notice and indicate whether the requested information is considered confidential and provide reasons for non-disclosure. The Act also prohibits information holders from disclosing information whose disclosure would result in the unreasonable disclosure of personal information about a third party (section 29) or which is likely to result in endangering the life, health or safety of a person (section 31). On the other hand, information holders are prohibited from disclosing legally privileged information unless the data subject (patient, client, source or person entitled to the privilege), consents to the release of the information or has waived the privilege or a court order is made to that effect (section 32).

Section 10 of the National Statistics Act, 2013 empowers the National Statistics Organisation (NSO) to collect all types of information, including personal information, nationwide on behalf of the government.

The major weakness of the current legal and policy framework is the lack of a dedicated data governance framework. This is especially problematic considering ongoing mandatory personal data collection exercises such as SIM card registration and biometric data collection as part of the national identification programme. Meanwhile, the government is reported to have rolled out the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS), with perceived surveillance capabilities. In 2017, the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an application by Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), one of the country’s mobile service providers, to stop the implementation of the CIRMS on privacy grounds.

As part of Internet Freedom and UPR advocacy efforts at the Human Rights Council, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), and Small Media made the following recommendations to UN members to consider putting forward to the Malawi delegation during the upcoming review:


“I'm convinced that a world in which women and girls are treated as equal to men and boys, is safer, more stable, and more prosperous. – President Barack Obama in a statement commemorating International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015

To end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies, women and girls must be empowered and USAID is committed to the full participation of every member of society. USAID’s development mission is a world in which women, men, girls and boys enjoy equal economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights and are all empowered to secure better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

In Malawi, this goal is even more pivotal due to the country’s widespread inequalities. Malawi ranks 173 out of 188 on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) and has the eighth highest child marriage rate in the world. To counteract these disparities, USAID works to give women and girls more opportunities by integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into all of the development efforts.


  • Gender Based Violence (GBV) remains a serious development challenge in Malawi. In 2014, USAID included Malawi as one of 35 GBV priority countries due to the high rates of child marriage in the country. USAID’s response falls under the U.S. Government’s three major strategies: “Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children: The USAID Vision for Action” the “United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, and the “Global Health Initiative Strategy.”
  • Under the Global Health Initiative Strategy, GBV issues are integrated into project strategy, design, and implementation. One of the overarching goals of these interventions is to mitigate and reduce GBV, particularly through improved referral and screening programs. Activities are focused on HIV/AIDS maternal, neonatal and child health and family planning/reproductive health. Interventions in these areas include:
    • working with communities to increase their involvement in preventing mother-to- child transmission of HIV
    • addressing norms that increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to HIV infection
    • implementing community mobilization activities that provide outreach to women and girls
    • improving interpersonal communication and counseling skills of health providers to overcome gender barriers
    • Including GBV screening in HIV testing and counseling sessions and providing client referrals to existing Victim Support Units and post‐exposure prophylaxis services at the community and district level and
    • Testing approaches for reaching youth to address cultural healthy behavior.

    USAID’s Early Grade Reading Activity (EGRA) helps keep both girls and boys in school by developing reading skills. In FY14, USAID reached 617,981, out of an estimated 1.7 million children attending Standards 1-3. The Malawi Early Grade Reading Improvement Activity (MERIT) will continue the work EGRA has begun by directly addressing some of the issues that result in low transition rates of girls into secondary school. For example, the creation of safe learning environments for reading will reduce instances of bullying and sexual harassment, which contribute to girls dropping out and repeating grades.

    USAID’s Girls Empowerment through Education and Health Activity (ASPIRE) works in Malawi to improve education and health outcomes for over125, 000 adolescent girls. ASPIRE improves the reading skills of girls in upper primary school so that they are better prepared for their future. The activity also encourages the adoption of positive sexual and health-care seeking behaviors, while simultaneously addressing some key cultural barriers that limit girls’ access to schooling. To achieve this, ASPIRE trains teachers, parents, and communities in methods to best support adolescent girls.

    • Sustainable Economic Growth interventions include activities that increase women‘s access to income and productive resources as well as their engagement in non-traditional roles. This results in increased female income generation and nutritional impact at the household level and ensures a greater role for women in economically productive activities such as village savings and loan (VSL) groups, agribusiness groups, small scale irrigation groups, and livestock activities.

    In one activity, VSL groups saved $2.4 million over five years in the eight districts of intervention. The Feed the Future Integrating Nutrition into Value Chains activity ensured that more women were included in training opportunities: At least 50 percent of new lead farmers and lead farmer assistant trainees were women. Focus group discussions with beneficiaries from the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement activity revealed that women held about 70 percent of leadership positions.

    Investments in biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and sustainable landscapes account for and address gender-specific vulnerabilities to climate change and promote forest-related livelihood opportunities that are of particular relevance to women.

    Section 7. Worker Rights

    A. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

    The law allows workers, except for military personnel and police, to form and join trade unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in the Ministry of Labor, Skills, and Innovation registration requirements are not onerous, but failure to meet annual reporting requirements may result in cancellation of a union’s registration. The law places some restrictions on the right to collectively bargain, including requirements of prior authorization by authorities, and bargaining status. The law provides for unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for remedial measures in cases of dismissal for union activity. The law does not specifically prohibit retaliation against strikers or actions against unions that are not registered.

    The law requires that at least 20 percent of employees (excluding senior managerial staff) belong to a union before it may engage in collective bargaining at the enterprise (factory) level, and at least 15 percent of employees must be union members for collective bargaining at the sector (industry) level. The law provides for the establishment of industrial councils in the absence of collective agreements for sector-level bargaining. Industrial council functions include wage negotiation, dispute resolution, and industry-specific labor policy development. The law allows members of a registered union to strike after going through a mandatory mediation process overseen by the Ministry of Labor. A strike may take place only after a lengthy settlement procedure, including seven days’ notice of a strike and a 21-day conciliation process as set out in the Labor Relations Act has failed. The law also requires the labor minister to apply to the Industrial Relations Court to determine whether a strike involves an “essential service,” the interruption of which would endanger the life, health, or personal safety of part of the population. The law does not provide a specific list of essential services. Members of a registered union in essential services have only a limited right to strike. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export processing zones. The law does not apply to most workers who are in the informal sector without work contracts.

    The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. As was true of all cases entering the justice system, lack of capacity resulted in delays of some labor cases. Small fines for most violations were insufficient to deter violations. Provisions exist for punishment of up to two years in prison, but no convictions were reported.

    Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were adequately respected for those in the formal sector. Union membership among workers was low due to the small percentage of the workforce in the formal sector.

    Arbitration rulings were legally enforceable however, the Industrial Relations Court did not monitor cases or adequately enforce the laws.

    Informal sector workers organized in the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), which is affiliated with the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions. MUFIS worked with district councils to address issues affecting informal workers due in part to a Ministry of Labor decision that MUFIS did not have sufficient standing to bargain collectively with employers.

    B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

    The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties for conviction were insufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

    Children were sometimes subjected to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor, including cattle herding, bonded labor on tobacco farms and other plantations, and menial work in small businesses.

    Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

    C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

    The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and children between ages 14 and 18 may not work in hazardous jobs or jobs that interfere with their education. The prohibition of child labor does not apply to work done in homes, vocational technical schools, or other training institutions. The law prohibits child trafficking, including labor exploitation and the forced labor of children for the income of a parent or guardian. The Employment Act provides a list of hazardous work for children and specifies a fine or imprisonment for conviction of violations. Penalties and enforcement were insufficient to deter offenders.

    Police and Ministry of Labor officials were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Labor inspectors do not have law enforcement authority and must enlist police to pursue violators.

    The Ministry of Labor, Skills, and Innovation increased the number of labor inspectors by 20 following promotions from lower grades to minimum grade for an officer to be eligible to conduct labor inspections. The ministry trained all 85 labor inspectors on child trafficking, labor legislation, and labor exploitation. The training on child trafficking was a follow-up to the designation of labor officers as enforcement officers of the trafficking in Persons Act and was carried out with assistance by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The ministry also carried out inspections focusing on the agricultural sector and domestic workers. The ministry worked with police and the social welfare department in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence persons convicted in cases of labor violations. The government acknowledged programs and activities continued largely based on the legal and regulatory framework that existed in 2018 except for the incorporation of labor officers as enforcement officers of the trafficking in persons act. The government, however, in collaboration with social partners and other stakeholders, developed several strategic documents to scale up interventions on ending child labor by 2025, and modern slavery and forced labor by 2020. Government reviewed the National Action Plan on Child, reviewed the Malawi Decent Work Country Program, and proposed abolition of tenancy labor in the employment amendment act. On November 7, the government ratified four ILO instruments, namely ILO C.029 protocol of 2014 to the forced labor convention 1930, ILO C187 promotional framework for occupational safety and health convention 2006, ILO C155 occupational safety and health convention 1981 and ILO C184 safety and health in agriculture convention 2001. These conventions are expected to be in force by November 7, 2020. Most public education activities and programs on child labor were carried out by tobacco companies–tobacco is the country’s largest export–and NGOs.

    Child labor remained a serious and widespread problem. The 2015 National Child Labor Survey found 38 percent of children ages five to 17 were involved in child labor. Child labor was most prevalent on farms and in domestic service. These children often worked 12-hour days, frequently for little or no pay. Many boys worked as vendors, and young girls in urban areas often worked outside their families as domestic servants, receiving low or no wages. Children who worked in the tobacco industry risked working with hazardous chemicals and sometimes suffered from nicotine poisoning. On February 22, the Tobacco Industry Act came into force. The act requires tobacco growers to report on efforts to eliminate child labor in tobacco farming.

    Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

    D. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

    The employment law prohibits discrimination against any employee or prospective employee but does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, and the government in general did not effectively enforce the law.

    Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability (see section 6). Despite the law against discrimination based on gender or marital status, discrimination against women was pervasive, and women did not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and nontraditional employment opportunities. Few women participated in the limited formal labor market, and those that did represented only a very small portion of managerial and administrative staff. Households headed by women were overrepresented in the lowest quarter of income distribution.

    LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in hiring and harassment, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

    E. Acceptable Conditions of Work

    The minister of labor sets the minimum wage rate based on recommendations of the Tripartite Wage Advisory Board composed of representatives of labor, government, and employers. The minimum wage was set below the World Bank’s poverty income level. In 2018 the World Bank estimated 69 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line. There is no requirement that persons employed in the informal sector receive a minimum wage.

    The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce the minimum wage. Because the law is limited to the formal sector, it did not apply to the more than 88 percent of the population that worked in the informal sector. Wage earners often supplemented their incomes through farming activities. No government programs provided social protections for workers in the informal economy.

    Migrant workers are entitled to the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens if they comply with immigration laws. Those persons not in compliance, however, lack these protections and are subject to deportation.

    The legal workweek is 48 hours, with a mandatory weekly 24-hour rest period. The law requires premium payment for overtime work and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for a period of annual leave of no less than 15 working days. Workweek and annual leave standards were not effectively enforced, and employers frequently violated statutory time restrictions. The Ministry of Labor’s enforcement of health and safety standards was also poor. The law specifies fines and imprisonment for conviction of violations, but these penalties were not sufficient to deter offenders, and no reports of jail terms were ever reported.

    The law includes extensive occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. The Ministry of Labor houses a Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health responsible for minimum standards, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Workers, particularly in industrial jobs, often worked without basic safety clothing and equipment. In tobacco fields workers harvesting leaves generally did not wear protective clothing workers absorbed up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine daily through their skin, the equivalent of 50 cigarettes.

    Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. Workers dismissed for filing complaints regarding workplace conditions have the right to file a complaint at the labor office or sue the employer for wrongful dismissal however, these processes were not widely publicized, and workers were unlikely to exercise these rights. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

    Watch the video: What is Human rights in Malawi?, Explain Human rights in Malawi, Define Human rights in Malawi (January 2022).