Sunday, October 14, 2012

Child rights activists demand life sentence for traffickers

Child and human rights activists are baying for the blood of four men convicted of child trafficking and sentenced to 18 months Imprisonment with Hard Labour (IHL) without the option of a fine by Phalombe First Grade Magistrate Court, saying Malawi has lost the opportunity to set a precedent to would-be child traffickers.
Kenwilliams Mhango, National Coordinator for the African Network for the Protection and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Anppcan) Malawi Chapter, said on Friday that he was shocked with the sentence.
“Child trafficking is a serious offence anywhere in the world, and the least courts can do is sentence offenders to life imprisonment. What child traffickers do is ‘kill’ the mind of the child because they limit the abilities of the child to achieve more in life.
“Malawi has lost an opportunity to make it clear to the world that it is a no-go-zone for child traffickers. Who would be happy with what the world says about us; that we act as a transit point for child traffickers? We could have done better,” Mhango said.
Mhango, who is also board member for Human Rights Consultative Committee, said stiffer sentences could act as one of the measures of protecting children from exploitation.
Peoples Federation for National Peace and Development Country Director, Edward Chaka, said child trafficking should be taken seriously, and that traffickers should not face leniency in courts of law while measures should be put in place to ensure that children rescued from traffickers undergo counseling for them to get over the “sad experience”.
Chaka said, if not well handled, trafficked children are more likely to become trouble makers due to the feeling that they are not wanted by society.
“ So, one of the ways to show our children that we care, and that we need them in this country, is to mete stiffer sentences on those who try to disrupt their life. Sometimes, it is difficult to get the minds of trafficked children back on track. Sentencing offenders to prison is one way of showing that we care,” Chaka said.
Meanwhile, the convicts- James Martin, 31, from Kasonya Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Jenala, Phalombe; and  Dickson Kambewu, 34, from Kupsa village, Daniel Thumpwa, 21, of Chaweza village, and James Banda from Mwapasa village- all from T/A Mwambo in Zomba- have started their life behind bars, said Phalombe Police spokesperson Augustus Nkwazi.
Nkhwazi said, before being convicted and sentenced, Martin, Kambewu, Thumpwa, and Banda had told the court that they thought that, by taking the children along, they were saving the children and their (children’s) parents from. But even this was not enough to save the four Malawians who work as casual labourers in Mozambique from paying for their ‘courtesy’.
The four pleaded guilty to the charge of Child Trafficking, contrary to the Child Care, Protection, and Justice Act. The Act says child trafficking means the recruiting, transaction, transfer, hobouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation, and a person who takes part in child trafficking is liable to imprisonment for life.
In passing the sentence, First Grade Magistrate Felix Mandalasi acknowledged the seriousness of the offence, but considered grounds that the four pleaded guilty and were first-time-offenders, hence 18 months IHL.
Eye of the Child executive director, Maxwell Matewere, could not be reached for comment, but he told The Sunday Times in June this year that child trafficking continued to be “very serious and worrisome” problem as children continued to be trafficked within the country and outside.
“A large number of children are trafficked either in groups or alone for prostitution, agriculture and domestic work, removal of organs, brick making, and street begging,” Matewere said.
Matewere also decried that fact that ratification of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes, the Trafficking Protocol, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air signed on 17 March 2005, has been marred by unnecessary delays to enact new laws. 
“The root cause of trafficking is, surely, poverty in many countries in the world, and its consequences are severe and include damage to mental and physical health and, sometimes, death,” Matewere said.
Malawi is listed under Tier 2 countries by the USA government. This means it is not fully complying with the minimum anti-child trafficking standards, but is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards.
Various studies have shown that child trafficking is rampant in Malawi. They include that commissioned by the Malawi Government in 2008; the Child Trafficking in Malawi report, compiled by Unicef and the International Labour Organisation; and the July 2008 research findings report by the Centre for Social Research entitled ‘Prevention of Child Trafficking in Women and Children for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation: Malawi’.
Recent estimates suggest that between 600,000 and 800,000 women and children are trafficked annually. The US Department of State suggests that the figures could be higher, while the United Nations estimates that about 1.2 million children are trafficked both internally and internationally per year.