The press recently has been awash with voices baying for stiffer punishments for perpetrators of abductions and killings of people living with albinism. CSO’s, citizen groups, media and religious organizations’ under an umbrella body termed Stakeholders Action group have declared May 23 to 27 as action week to create awareness, mobililize citizens to speak out and act, engage authorities and other stakeholders to decisively act against the abductions and killings of people with albinism in Malawi. So far, punishments for abductions or being found in possession with bones believed to belong to those with albinism have ranged from 2, 3 years or even fined K20,000-an amount too small to distract would be offenders. The general public understands that these are very serious offences that could have attracted stiffer sentences and feels cheated and discontent with this. However the challenge lies with our laws which state as follows:
The Penal Code Section 261: (Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder): Any person who- kidnaps or abducts any person in order that such person may be murdered, or may be so disposed of as to be put in danger of being murdered, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.
The Penal Code Section 314: (Criminal trespass): Any person who—
(a) enters into or upon property in the possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy any person lawfully in possession of such property;
(b)having lawfully entered into or upon such property unlawfully remains there with intent shall be guilty of the misdemeanour termed “criminal trespass” and shall be liable to imprisonment for three months.
If the property upon which the offence is committed is any building, tent or vessel used as a human dwelling or any building used as a place of worship or as a place for the custody of property,the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for twelve months.
According to one magistrate interviewed (as part of a Key Informant Interview session as part of an evidence based documentation of the impact of killings of persons with albinism in Malawi, a survey that was conducted in 2015 by WLSA Malawi on behalf of the Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA)-for the full report please contact the administrator) “the community may have expected that someone found in possession of human bones be tried for murder something which would not be easy unless there was adequate evidence connecting them to this.The trespass case which most of them were answering carries a maximum of 2 years and the courts could not and cannot go beyond that.”
One law which is not being mentioned in the same breath as the protests against the lenient punishments is the Witchcraft Act. Boniface Massa, president of Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) states that the “Witchcraft Act is a loophole-it does not recognize witchcraft in the country yet reports surroundings the killings of people with albinism clearly indicate that the incidents are connected to witchcraft beliefs.” Massa further appeals for “a review of the Witchcraft Act so that it is in tandem with the latest developments in the country and also that by doing so perpetrators of such acts can be penalized accordingly.”
The call from the general public and CSO’s is loud and clear that the criminal justice system needs to be reviewed to ably handle the situation regarding abductions and killings of persons living with albinism.