Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor. Rape is nonetheless widespread. The government did not enforce the law effectively and obtained few rape convictions.
In 2010 the ZPS’s Victim Support Unit (VSU) recorded 254 cases of rape, 35 cases of attempted rape, and 170 cases of indecent assault; 45 defendants were convicted of rape, 17 were acquitted, and 10 cases were withdrawn. However, these totals greatly understated the actual extent of the problem. The law does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and penal code provisions that criminalize rape cannot be used to prosecute cases of spousal rape.
Domestic violence against women was a serious problem, and wife beating was widespread. On April 12, former president Banda signed the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act and an amended penal code into law to protect women from gender-based violence. The law provides for protection orders for victims of domestic and gender violence. Most of the gender-based crimes are prosecuted under the revised penal code, and penalties for assault range from a fine to 25 years in prison, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used during the assault. The VSU was responsible for handling cases of domestic assault, wife beating, mistreatment of widows, and property expropriation (grabbing) by a deceased husband’s relatives. In practice the police were often reluctant to pursue reports of domestic violence and preferred to encourage reconciliation.
Harmful Traditional Practices: Polygamy is legally permitted under customary law. The practice of “sexual cleansing,” in which a widow is compelled to have sexual relations with her late husband’s relatives as part of a cleansing ritual, continued as a practice under customary law in a few rural areas. However, many local leaders banned the practice. The penal code prohibits “sexual cleansing” of children under the age of 16.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common. Although the law only prohibits sexual harassment of children, the penal code contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women could be prosecuted. Although the government has sometimes successfully prosecuted persons for such actions, no such case was reported during the year.
Sex Tourism: Sex tourism occurred but was not prevalent.
Reproductive Rights: Although couples and individuals enjoyed the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, they often lacked access to information. Scarcity of information effectively led to discrimination against women in the exercise of reproductive rights. Many women lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. According to a 2010 UN estimate, 27 percent of women aged 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception and 47 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. A 2010 UN report estimated that in 2008 the maternal mortality ratio was 470 per 100,000 live births and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 38 in 2008. Barriers that limited access to reproductive health services included limited information, cost implications, religious reasons, and some myths surrounding contraceptives, as well as lack of access to health facilities.
Women generally did not experience discrimination in terms of diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The number of women who received HIV testing and treatment increased substantially in recent years, and many more women than men sought treatment.
Discrimination: The law generally entitles women to equality with men. At the same time the government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination in employment, education, and land and property ownership. Employed women often suffered from discriminatory conditions of service, including pay inequity. Although the Ministry of Lands set aside special land quotas for women to redress the imbalance in property ownership, women lacked adequate access to credit to purchase land or property. In most cases women remained dependent on their husbands or male members of their family to cosign for loans, although some financial institutions allowed women to sign independently for loans. As a result, few women owned their own homes or businesses. The Gender and Child Development Division is the government’s primary agency charged with promoting the status of women.
Local customary law generally discriminates against women. Despite constitutional and legal protections, customary law subordinates women with respect to property ownership, inheritance, and marriage.
Customary law dictates that rights to inherit property rest with the deceased man’s family. Statutory law prescribes that the man’s children equally share half of an estate, the widow 20 percent, the deceased’s parents 20 percent, and other dependents 10 percent. In a polygamous marriage, the widow’s share must be divided proportionally with other wives, based on the length of time each has stayed in the marriage. Property grabbing from widows remained widespread. The courts generally considered property grabbing a criminal offense and mandated up to three years’ imprisonment for these cases. However, most property grabbing cases were decided in local courts, which administer customary law and do not have the power to impose prison sentences. The fines the local courts imposed were low.