The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. These rights may be limited only when the president declares a state of emergency.
The law states that holders of broadcast licenses “shall not broadcast any material which is…offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population.”
Religious groups must register with government to be recognized as legal entities. To do so groups must submit documentation detailing the structure and mission of their organization and pay a fee of 1,000 kwacha ($1). The government reviews the application for administrative compliance only. According to the government, registration does not constitute endorsement of religious beliefs, nor is it a prerequisite for religious activities. Registration allows a religious group to acquire land, rent property in its own name, and obtain utility services such as water and electricity.
The law authorizes religious groups, regardless of registration status, to import certain goods duty free. These include religious paraphernalia, vehicles used for worship-related purposes, and office equipment. In practice, however, the Ministry of Finance rarely grants duty exemptions even to registered groups.
Detainees have a right to consult with a religious counselor of their choice.
Religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools, with no opt-out provision, and is available as an elective in public secondary schools. According to the constitution, eliminating religious intolerance is a goal of education. In some schools, the religious curriculum is a Christian-oriented “Bible knowledge” course, while in others it is an interfaith “moral and religious education” course drawing from the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths. According to the law, local school management committees, elected at parent-teacher association meetings, decide on which religious curriculum to use. Private Christian and Islamic schools offer religious instruction in their respective faiths. Hybrid “grant-aided” schools are managed by private, usually religious, institutions, but their teaching staffs are paid by the government. In exchange for this financial support, the government chooses a significant portion of the students who attend. At grant-aided schools, a board appointed by the school’s operators decides whether the “Bible knowledge” or the “moral and religious education” curriculum will be used.
Foreign missionaries are required to have employment permits.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Despite guidance from the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS), the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) continued to report that some DRTSS photographers required Muslim women to remove their hijabs to take their driving license picture.
MAM reported that some teachers asked female students to remove their headscarf in order to attend class. Muslim leaders also continued to express concern about staggered school shifts that complicated the organization of after-school religious education.
Muslim organizations also continued to request the education ministry to discontinue use of the “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas. The issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.
Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to report that public school principals prohibited children with dreadlocks from attending certain public schools. Although in January 2017 the solicitor general reaffirmed in writing Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education, school policy usually requires children to shave their heads to attend. By year’s end, the Ministry of Education had taken no further measures to ensure access. Most Rastafarian parents relented and shaved their children’s heads, but the children of several families continued to be denied access to public school by principals. A child who was selected through a highly competitive process to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba was denied enrollment in September 2017 because of his hair. He was allowed to attend school with dreadlocks after a December 2017 Zomba High Court ordered that he be enrolled pending the conclusion of litigation initiated by the Malawi Women Lawyer Association on his behalf. The Malawi Human Rights Commission officially joined the case as a plaintiff filing an amicus brief. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending. Several families whose children were also denied education or were forced to shave their heads to enroll were in the process of joining the suit.
Rastafarians continued to object to the laws making use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in country, noting that it is a part of their religious doctrine.
Religious organizations and leaders regularly expressed their opinions on political issues, and their statements received coverage in the media. In April and June the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (Catholics) and the Evangelical Association of Malawi released pastoral letters denouncing poor governance, corruption, and political violence.
Most government meetings and events began and ended with a prayer, usually Christian in nature. At larger events, government officials generally invited clergy of different faiths to participate.
On October 28, at a government-convened national prayer for good rains, President Peter Mutharika hailed religious organizations’ role in service delivery but warned them not to get involved in politics and “stick to their mandate.”