With about two weeks to the next sitting of Parliament, the Child Rights Information & Documentation Centre (CRDOC) would like to appeal to the Members of Parliament (MPs) to prioritise the tabling, debate and/or enactment of long-awaited Bills that affect the physical and emotional development as well as the overall welfare of children and young people in Malawi.

Speaker of the National Assembly

CRIDOC was established to contribute towards the promotion and protection of rights and development of children and young people through information exchange, information documentation and information dissemination. The centre subscribes to the principle of the “Best Interest of the Child” as enshrined in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malawi signed and ratified. We believe that the survival, protection and development of children are integral to human progress as well as to the country’s realisation of Millennium Development Goals (MDG). We reckon that the Legislative Arm of Government plays a critical role in creating a protective environment for children and young people.

CRIDOC recalls that while in the past the civil society organisations intensified campaigns to enact a number of important Bills that may have direct impact and relevance on the welfare and development of children and young people, most Parliamentarians continued to show disinterest, and instead prioritized laws – including Section 46, Injunctions Act, Police Act, Local Courts Act, just to mention a few – that were only calculated to advance their own political whims, as they were passed without much resistance or exhaustive deliberations.

While the Centre unequivocally welcomes the widely-held opinion on the need for Parliament to review and/or repeal some of the laws aforementioned (most of which focus largely on civil and political rights!), we would however like to make a strong appeal that the general approach should not necessarily be at the expense of Bills that have been left unattended to for a long time, but whose potential impact especially on children and other vulnerable groups has been overlooked. We note that this is simply because, in our considered view, society tends to perceive the latter as designed to address the rather less-fancied “second generation” rights as compared to the more favoured “first generation” rights. Some of the key pieces of legislation that urgently require either enactment or thorough debate by our Parliament include:

(1) Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Bill
Although the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act (2010) is the first legislation to define child trafficking in Malawi, imposing a penalty of life imprisonment for convicted traffickers, we still need the enactment of a specific law that can address all issues pertaining to trafficking in a more holistic or comprehensive manner. The enactment of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Bill, which prohibits all forms of human trafficking is long overdue, having already taken quite a rigorous consultative process of review and advocacy since it was first drafted in 2004.

(2) Tobacco Tenancy Bill
The enactment of the Tobacco Tenancy Bill – which was first drafted way back in 1995 and is still at Cabinet level – will demonstrate Malawi’s positive commitment against child labour, considering that the country is a signatory to a number of relevant international conventions, including the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the 1973 ILO Convention 138 (setting a minimum working age of 18); and the 1999 ILO Convention 182 (outlawing child labour). The fact that the tenancy law will protect an estimated 200, 000 Malawians working as tenants in tobacco estates, should be enough motivation for the August House to ensure that the draft law is operational as soon as possible by enacting it. The law will set a new minimum age limit of employment at 18 years, and institute punitive measures of imprisonment and a hefty fine of up to one million Kwacha for estate owners using child workers, among other things.

(3) Disability Bill
Parliament should seriously take cue from the recent State President’s pledge to have yet another long-awaited Bill, which is technically known as “Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Bill” pursued and enacted without further delay. Despite the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act attempting to modernize the Child Justice System in Malawi and consolidating various provisions relating to children – which were spread out in various pieces of legislations prior to June 2010 – the law is still lacking in addressing some of the emerging issues affecting the rights of children, and disability is one of them. We would like to put it on record that many buildings still do not have ramps to enhance accessibility for persons with disabilities, including in public schools. Primary education is facing high enrolment rates and studies reveal that numbers of children with physical and other forms of disabilities in mainstream schools is growing thereby resulting in the increased need for “special needs education.” The tabling and passing of the Bill, which has taken almost eight years now, will therefore mark a paradigm shift in the way persons with disabilities are treated.

(4) Access to Information Bill
Society and other practitioners tend to forget that children also have the right to enjoy not only the right to information for their psychological development, but should also be protected from certain information that could be deemed harmful for their own development as they exercise their right. Yet the Access to Information Bill, in its present state, does not make any attempt to define what sort of information should – or should not – be accessed by children either through the media or otherwise. Parliamentarians should start making follow ups on the progress of the Bill, (which still awaits a policy), and should begin deliberating and incorporating substantive issues into the Bill, as it is almost nine years since it was first drafted.

(5) The Education Act
The failure by Parliament to deliberate on the review of the archaic Education Act has been another shortcoming as regards the attainment of the right to education by many children in country. The current law, officially known as the Legal Education and Legal Practitioners Act, has some flaws which, if addressed, will promote delivery of quality education services at all levels in the country. The existing Act was enacted in 1962, and review for the new one begun in 2009. It is outdated and does not embrace the democratic dispensation. Even private schools, for example, have not been accommodated in the law.

The list of laws requiring urgent attention may definitely be longer than what CRIDOC has outlined above, but we would like to reiterate the need for Parliamentarians to play their critical part in helping to create a protective and caring environment, where girls and boys are free from violence, exploitation, and unnecessary separation from family; and where laws, services, behaviours and practices minimize children’s vulnerability, address known risk factors, and strengthen children’s own resilience. In addition, it is the responsibility of Parliament to introduce new (or tighten up existing) laws related to cultural traditions that impinge on the rights of children, such as early marriages, initiation ceremonies, witchcraft, etc.

In conclusion, all that we are demanding is that the Parliamentarians should cease the opportunity during the forthcoming sitting to begin deliberating and aligning various national laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and other international legal frameworks, and making the laws child-friendly.

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