The Malawi Law Commission has started the review of the Witchcraft Act after receiving submissions from individuals and organisations over its shortcoming.
The review seeks to address the gaps in the law that have resulted in the failure to protect Malawians from witchcraft and suspects of witchcraft from unfair prosecution.
The special commission constituted to conduct the review has raised some issues to be addressed including witchcraft, satanism, witchcraft and the rule of law, the role of traditional healers and leaders and religious leaders in connection to witchcraft as well as vulnerable groups and victim management.
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Currently, the Witchcraft Act of Malawi prohibits trial by ordeal, in which suspects are subjected to painful and unpleasant experience to prove their innocence. It also outlaws the hiring of witchfinders and pretending to be a witch or practising witchcraft.
“Any person who employs or solicits any other person to name or indicate by the use of any non-natural means any person as the perpetrator of any alleged crime or other act complained of shall be liable to a fine of £25 and to imprisonment for five years.”
According to the Act, people should report any act of witchcraft to the court, the police, the chief or other people in authority. However, this has not always been the case as individuals and groups take it upon themselves to punish suspects, usually to damage of property, injury and even death.
Some vulnerable groups such as people living with albinism have also been targets of witch doctors, who use their body parts in rituals as they are considered good luck charms. Children and women have also not been spared, with elderly women being victimised for allegedly teaching children these practices. Usually, they are subjected to different forms violence including physical and sexual violence.
Malawi has addressed such issues in various ways including the establishment of Victim Support Units in police stations to not only protect the victims but also sensitise communities on witchcraft and the law. However, lack of resources has impeded their duties.
The process is ongoing, with the commission encouraging Malawians to contribute.