Birth Registration: Citizenship can be derived from birth within the country or from one’s parents. In 2007 the government launched the pilot phase of the national registration and identification system, the first step in the creation of a national identification system to provide for mandatory registration of births; however, the system had not been fully implemented by year’s end. There were no reports of discrimination or denial of services due to lack of birth registration.
Education: The government provided tuition-free primary education for all children, although education was not compulsory. Families were responsible for paying book fees and purchasing uniforms. However, students from poor families had access to a public book fund. Many girls, especially in rural areas, were unable to complete even a primary education due to poverty, lack of schools, and cultural factors, and were at a serious disadvantage in finding employment.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The press regularly reported cases of sexual abuse of children, including arrests for rape, incest, sodomy, and defilement. A 2008 study by the safe schools program in Machinga found that 90 percent of girls and 47 percent of boys in primary schools experienced some form of violence, including sexual touching by other students, sexual abuse by teachers, corporal punishment, and verbal and psychological abuse.
In 2010 parliament passed the Child Care, Protection, and Justice Act, which prohibits subjecting a child to any social or customary practice that is harmful to the health or general development of a child. Targeted practices included child trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage or betrothal, and use of children as security for debts or loans. The law was passed in July 2010 but had not been fully enacted as it was awaiting final publication in the official legal records at year’s end.
The Ministry of Gender, Child, and Community Development undertook activities to enhance protection and support of child victims. The ministry trained and paid small stipends to more than 800 community child protection personnel, who worked nationally to identify victims of child abuse, underage labor, and trafficking, and referred cases to district social welfare offices or the police.
Child Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 15, with marriage under age 18 requiring parental consent. “Girl Up”, a UN Foundation campaign, reported in November that child marriage was widespread, with nearly 50 percent of girls marrying before age 18.
Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM). A few small ethnic groups practiced FGM. In most cases, FGM was performed on girls between 10 and 15 years of age.
Despite the Child Care, Protection, and Justice Act, many abusive practices, including the secret initiation of girls into their future adult roles, continued. In a few traditional communities, girls averaging 12 years of age were forced to have sexual relations with older men as part of such initiation rites. “Kupimbira,” a practice that allows a poor family to receive a loan or livestock in exchange for daughters of any age, existed in some areas. The MHRC expressed concern over reports of parents forcing their daughters into marriages for food.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The widespread belief that children were unlikely to be HIV positive and that sexual intercourse with virgins could cleanse an individual of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, contributed to the widespread sexual exploitation of minors.
Reports of European tourists paying for sex with teenage boys and girls continued.
The trafficking of children for sexual purposes was a problem, and child prostitution for survival without third-party involvement also occurred. For example, at local bars and rest houses, owners coerced girls who worked at the establishments to have sex with customers in exchange for room and board. The Child Care, Protection, and Justice Act stipulates punishment up to and including life imprisonment for child traffickers, but the law had not officially taken effect by year’s end.
The penal code outlaws carnal knowledge of females under the age of 16 and stipulates penalties up to and including the death penalty for offenders.
Displaced Children: A few charitable organizations attempted to reduce the number of child beggars in urban areas; however, the problem of street children remained serious, as the number of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS increased. Extended family members normally cared for such children and other orphans.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.