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 the 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.
QMAM reported that some female students were asked to remove their hijab in order to have their pictures taken for the secondary school examination identification cards. 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. According to Saiti Jambo, QMAM executive director, the issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.
According to media reports, conflicts often arose related to school dress codes prescribing a particular uniform and appearance that did not allow female students to wear the hijab. Beginning in October, a disagreement between the Anglican parish and Muslim communities in Balaka (a district in the southern part of the country) arose over the wearing of hijabs by Muslim female students attending Anglican schools receiving government funds. Four Anglican primary schools were closed for as long as eight weeks due to the standoff. Fighting between the groups broke out in early November after two Muslim girls wearing the hijab were prevented from attending a government school run by the Anglican Church, the M’manga Primary School, which is located in a part of the country where Muslims are the largest religious group.
On November 5, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology clarified its stand on wearing the hijab by Muslim female students as being a “nondiscrimination approach” that allows religious dress in schools. The ministry added that concerns about dress codes in schools run by faith-based organizations were forwarded to PAC for consultations, which PAC Publicity Secretary Bishop Gilford Matongax said would help the government in responding to concerns.
In November Alhaji Twaibe Lawe, secretary general of the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), the largest Muslim association in the country, said the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services would allow women to wear the hijab for their driver’s license photograph; some photographers from the department previously had asked women to remove their hijabs before taking the photographs.
The court case that commenced in 2017 of a Rastafarian child who was selected through a highly competitive process to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba and then denied enrollment due to his dreadlocks continued during the year. A hearing scheduled for December 3 did not take place because the judge was not available. The Malawi Human Rights Commission officially joined the case as a plaintiff in 2018, filing an amicus brief on behalf of the student. National school policy usually requires children to wear closely shaven hair to attend. In January 2017 the solicitor general affirmed Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education. The child was allowed to attend school with dreadlocks after the Zomba High Court ordered in December 2017 that he be enrolled pending the conclusion of litigation initiated by the Malawi Women Lawyers Association on his behalf. The attorney for the student stated she had accepted a second case of a Rastafarian student denied school access because of dreadlocks in December and was working to consolidate the cases. She had requested that the existing injunction be broadened to cover all Rastafarian students.
Rastafarians continued to object to the laws making use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in country, stating its use 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 prior to general elections in May, the Nkhoma Synod of the Central Africa Presbyterian Church (CCAP) released a pastoral letter condemning endemic corruption, discouraging political violence, and calling on the Malawi Electoral Commission to avoid election fraud and rigging. In June following the elections, the Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP released a preliminary statement saying that the elections were generally free but that the synod was unable to attest to their credibility and fairness.
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 May 4, PAC facilitated an event entitled “National Prayers for Peaceful Elections,” inviting leaders of multiple faiths to address the audience. All presidential candidates were present except the incumbent. The candidates signed a peace declaration during the prayers.