U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Malawi
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Malawi , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6f14.html [accessed 3 March 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
On June 15, the Republic of Malawi held its second democratic presidential and parliamentary elections since independence in 1964. (The first were held in 1994.) Independent observers concluded that the election was "free and substantially fair"; however, there was limited opposition access to media and problems in registration, and the opposition appealed the result to the courts. Constitutional power is shared between a popularly elected president and the 193-member National Assembly. President Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) party was reelected to serve a second 5-year term, defeating Gwanda Chakuamba, the joint presidential candidate of the two leading opposition parties, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). The UDF has 99 seats in the National Assembly, the MCP has 65, and AFORD has 29. There is no clear-cut ideological difference among the three political parties. The Government respects the constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system is inefficient and lacks resources.
The National Police, headed by the Inspector General of Police under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are responsible for internal security. The police occasionally called on the army for support. There continued to be credible allegations that the police committed human rights abuses.
The country is very poor, with a narrow economic base characterized by a small and highly concentrated industrial sector, low levels of foreign and domestic investment, and few mineral resources. Agriculture dominates the economy, contributing about 87 percent of export earnings, 36 percent of gross domestic product, and employing over 80 percent of the labor force. Three crops – tobacco, tea, and sugar – generate about 78 percent of export earnings, with tobacco providing by far the largest share. There is little industry and mining, and no known economically viable deposits of gemstones, precious metals, or oil. The country is a landlocked nation, and freight and insurance costs constitute over 40 percent of its import bill – a serious impediment to economic development and trade. The Government continues to divest its ownership of public enterprises. Wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a small elite. In 1998 per capita income was approximately $200. Average annual inflation was 29.7 percent in 1998, up from 9.1 percent in 1997.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas; however, serious problems remained. There were instances of extrajudicial killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. The police are known to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening and resulted in a large number of deaths. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, and lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem. An inefficient and understaffed judicial system and limited resources called into question the ability of defendants to receive a timely, and in many cases, fair trial. Security forces at times infringed on citizens' privacy rights.
The print media are able to report freely; however, there were a few exceptions, and there was some self-censorship. The four private radio stations experienced relative freedom in broadcasting international news and entertainment programming; however, the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation continued to control news coverage and editorial content at its two radio stations. The constitutionally mandated Human Rights Commission (HRC) met for the first time in February. Violence against women is common. Women continued to experience severe societal discrimination. The Government took steps in its economic development programs to assist disadvantaged women. Abuse of children remained a problem. Child labor also is a problem. Mob violence triggered by anger over high levels of common crime resulted in summary executions of alleged criminals.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings; however there were extrajudicial killings stemming from the deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody. These deaths involved possible use of excessive force or possible negligence.
On August 25, former Eritrean detainees in Ethiopia obtained fraudulent Malawian visas and traveled to Malawi with government-issued travel documents. They were returned forcibly to Ethiopia after refusing an offer to travel to Eritrea. One former detainee was shot and killed, and at least six others were wounded in a confrontation with police in Lilongwe. No action was taken against the police.
A large number of prisoners died largely due to harsh prison conditions (see Section 1.c.).
Frustrated by inadequate law enforcement and rising crime, angry mobs sometimes resorted to vigilante justice in beating, stoning, or burning suspected criminals to death. The police identified 146 cases during the year, and they made some attempts – largely unsuccessful – to identify and arrest those responsible. In September police in Lilongwe successfully rescued a car thief caught in the act by a crowd of vigilantes.
There were no reports of disappearances.
c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; however, police continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects. The Inspectorate of Prisons is an investigative body mandated by the Constitution. Knowledgeable NGO's consider that the findings of its October 1997 Inspectorate of Prisons report – the most recent document of its kind – remain indicative of prison conditions. That report notes that techniques used by police included beatings, physical assault, and the use of wire instead of handcuffs to restrain prisoners and to force confessions. These abuses sometimes are hidden by keeping a prisoner in police custody until wounds heal before turning the prisoner over to the prison system for remand. The mistreatment is partly due to the mistaken belief of many police officers that the law requires them to present a case (not just charges) to the court within 48 hours of arrest. Lack of financial resources for appropriate equipment, facilities, and training also contributed to mistreatment.There have been some marginal improvements in police conduct resulting from training in investigative interviewing skills and from workshops aimed at changing officers' attitudes. While higher ranking officials demonstrated familiarity with new standards for the humane treatment of prisoners, their subordinates commonly employed unacceptable techniques. The Government continued to seek community involvement in its comprehensive reform of the police. In February the National Assembly passed the Community Service Act, which permits some offenders to provide community service in place of imprisonment. As of year's end, there were Community Service Act pilot programs in four cities.
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, substandard sanitation, and poor health facilities remained serious problems. According to the 1997 Inspectorate of Prisons report, harsh conditions and inadequate health care contributed to the deaths from disease of over 200 inmates over a 20-month period from January 1996 to August 1997. The Government reported that during the year, 260 prisoners and suspects died in police cells and prisons, including those attempting to escape. While not kept in separate facilities, women are segregated within the prison compound and tended by female guards. Only four prisons have separate facilities for juveniles. In the other prisons, juveniles are incarcerated with adults.
The Inspectorate of Prisons, domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and international NGO's are permitted to make visits to monitor prison conditions without government interference.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution grants the accused the rights to challenge the legality of detention, to have access to legal counsel, and to be released or informed of charges by a court of law within 48 hours; however, these rights seldom are respected in practice. Police often resort to beatings to obtain information deemed necessary to their cases. In cases where the court determines that a defendant cannot afford to supply his own counsel, legal services are provided by the Government. With few persons able to afford legal counsel, the country's five public defenders were not sufficient to represent all indigent detainees in a timely manner. Bail frequently is granted to reduce prison overcrowding. Its use often bears only a tenuous relationship to the merits of an individual's situation. At the end of the year, approximately one-third of the 7,324 prison inmates consisted of detainees awaiting trial. Police are accused of arbitrary arrests due to political motives.
The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice; however, the judicial system is handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor record keeping, a shortage of attorneys and trained personnel, a heavy caseload, and a lack of resources.
The Constitution provides for a High Court, a Supreme Court of Appeal, and subordinate magistrate courts. The Chief Justice is appointed by the President and confirmed by the National Assembly. The President appoints other justices, following a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission. All justices are appointed until the age of 65 and may be removed only for reasons of incompetence or misbehavior, as determined by the President and a majority of the Parliament.
By law defendants have the right to a public trial but not to a trial by jury. In murder cases, the High Court nevertheless used juries of 12 persons from the defendant's home district. Defendants also are entitled to an attorney, the right to present and challenge evidence and witnesses, and the right of appeal. However, the judiciary's budgetary and administrative problems effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants.
In July the High Court concluded a training program for 48 lay magistrates. Traditional court judges, absorbed into the magistrate court system, also receive some training in court procedure and the body of law that they administer. In August the High Court began a 2-month refresher-training program for traditional court judges.
Juvenile offenders have special rights under the Constitution, including the right to be separated in custody from adults, to be treated in a manner that recognizes their age and the possibility for rehabilitation, and to be exempt from the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. However, the protection they are accorded in principle is often denied in practice, and many juvenile offenders are incarcerated with adults.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Government authorities generally respected constitutional provisions that protect these rights; however, army and police forces, in carrying out sweeps for illegal weapons, did not always obtain search warrants as required by law.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were some exceptions. Limited self-censorship still exists, in part due to habits that evolved during the country's 30-year single party political system, which ended in 1994. A broad spectrum of political and ideological opinion is presented in the country's two dozen newspapers, usually without government interference. However, the Government still threatened and harassed members of the media. In June an editor and senior reporter of the opposition weekly Malawi News were arrested and detained for 3 days following publication of a story on protests against the June 15 presidential and parliamentary election results. The story quoted the chant of an angry group calling for the army to take over the Government. The two journalists posted bail and at year's end were awaiting trial on charges of "publishing an article prejudicial to public safety" and "inciting to mutiny." The latter charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) dominates the radio market with its two stations, transmitting in major population centers throughout the country. News coverage and editorial content are clearly progovernment. The MBC consistently denied opposition candidates access to the media during the presidential and parliamentary election campaigns. The Government began limited television broadcasting in March with editorial control similar to that on MBC radio.
There are four private radio stations. One commercial station began broadcasting in Blantyre in August 1998. A second commercial station began broadcasting in Blantyre in March. There is a rural community radio station run by local women, with the help of the Malawi Media Women's Association (MAMWA). A religious station broadcasts in the capital and its environs.
In November 1998, Parliament passed a communications bill that established the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), an independent body that issues broadcasting licenses for radio, television, and Internet service providers. Currently, there are only a limited number of Internet service providers, and service is expensive. In May President Muluzi appointed the MACRA's first nine-member board.
There were no restrictions on academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. Authorities routinely granted official permits, which are required by law for large meetings.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government requires organizations, including political parties, to register with the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice. There were no reports of groups being denied registration during the year.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Religious groups must register with the Government. There were no reports that the Government refused to register any religious group. Foreign missionaries experienced occasional delays in renewing employment permits, but this apparently was the result of bureaucratic inefficiency rather than deliberate government policy (see Section 6.e.).
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens have freedom of movement and residence within the country, and the right to leave and return.
The Government, with one exception, cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in managing the refugee community. According to the UNHCR, Malawi hosted over 1,400 refugees, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region, at the country's refugee center in Dowa. Although the Government grants refugee status, the law does not accept refugees for resettlement and does not permit them to work or study. Asylum applicants are granted hearings to make their case for asylum status. The Government also invoked the principle of first country of asylum against many of the Rwandans and Congolese who either had requested asylum in another country or had the opportunity to do so. Although there were no reports of bona fide refugees seeking first asylum being turned away, NGO sources continue to express concern that some of those found not to be bona fide refugees – primarily Congolese – were rejected because of poor quality translation or ambiguous questions that trapped or misled otherwise qualified refugees. In August the Government denied the UNHCR access to a group of 25 Eritreans in detention for attempting to enter the country, reportedly as tourists, with fraudulent visas. Police shot and killed one detainee in their custody (see Section 1.a.). The Government forcibly returned the remaining 24 Eritreans to Ethiopia.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote in periodic elections. There is universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age and older. International election observers found the June presidential and parliamentary elections to be free and substantially fair; however, the electoral process was flawed, as opposition access to the broadcast media was limited; there were registration problems in some areas of the country; and the Electoral Commission at times displayed bias in favor of the ruling party. The opposition appealed the outcome of the presidential vote, and at year's end the case still was pending before the High Court.
President Muluzi, First Vice President Justin Malewezi, and a 28-member cabinet exercise executive authority. The second vice presidency remains vacant. The executive exerts considerable influence over the legislature; the legislature follows the parliamentary system, and consequently a number of cabinet ministers also sit as Members of Parliament (M.P.'s). Although the Government and opposition have never reached agreement on the applicability of the 1997 High Court ruling that cabinet ministers cannot simultaneously sit as M.P.'s., the issue currently is not a topic of debate. At year's end, the Electoral Commission anticipated holding elections for local government councils in each of Malawi's 27 districts during 2000. Although the Government does not prevent the operation of opposition political parties, the parties continue to allege that the Government uses bribery and other inducements to encourage opposition party divisions and defections of key personnel to the ruling party.
There are no laws that restrict the participation of women or minorities in the political process; however, there are very few women in prominent government positions, and women are underrepresented in politics and in positions of authority in general. Four of the 28 cabinet members are women; women hold 17 of the 193 seats in the National Assembly. During the year, a citizen of European origin and several of Asian descent were elected to the National Assembly.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, training civic educators, advocating changes to existing laws and cultural practices, and investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally are cooperative and responsive to their views.
The Ombudsman is mandated by the Constitution to investigate and take legal action against government officials responsible for human rights violations and other abuses. The Ombudsman's freedom of action is circumscribed by legislation that requires a warrant and a 3-day waiting period to gain access to certain government records. In August the High Court in Blantyre issued an injunction preventing the Ombudsman from investigating the June dismissal of four MBC employees. (The employees allege that they were dismissed because of their political views.) In addition to the injunction, the High Court ruled that the Ombudsman's activities are subject to judicial review. The Ombudsman appealed this ruling. At year's end, the employees were free on bail, and the trial was still pending.
The Constitution provides for a National Compensation Tribunal (NCT) to adjudicate claims of criminal and civil liability against the former government. As of February, the NCT had registered over 8,700 claims, of which approximately 25 percent had been resolved. The NCT's lack of funds limits its ability to settle claims. The constitutionally mandated Human Rights Commission (HRC) is charged to: monitor, audit, and promote human rights provided for under the Constitution; and to carry out investigations regarding violations of any human rights. The HRC's five commissioners, who were appointed by the President, officially met for the first time in February but took no significant action during the year.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution specifically provides for equal rights for women; forbids discrimination based on language, culture, or religion; and generally provides for equality and recognition before the law for every citizen. In practice the capacity of government institutions to assure equal rights for all citizens is limited.
Spousal abuse, especially wife beating, is common. Society has begun to take the problem of violence against women seriously. The press published frequent accounts of rape and abuse, and the judiciary continued to impose heavier penalties on those convicted of rape. However, domestic violence seldom is discussed openly by women, reportedly even among themselves, and in part due to the lack of resources there are no confidential shelters or facilities for treatment of women who suffer physical or sexual abuse. Police do not normally intervene in domestic disputes.
Under the Constitution, women have the right to full and equal protection by law and may not be discriminated against on the basis of sex or marital status; however, in practice discrimination against women is pervasive, and women do not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women have significantly lower levels of literacy, education, formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, and access to resources to increase agricultural productivity.
Women, especially in rural areas, historically have been unable to complete even a primary education, and are therefore at a serious disadvantage in finding employment. Accepted economic and social practice hampers the ability of women and girls to gain an education. The literacy rate among women between the ages of 15 and 45 is less than 37 percent. Male literacy in the same age group is about 45 percent. Girls drop out of school more frequently than boys do, and in the final year of primary school, only about 25 percent of students are girls. Despite recent significant gains in girls' access to education, large gaps remain between girls' and boys' achievement levels. However, there have been signs of improvement in education for girls. Girls entered first grade in the same proportion as boys during the year, although the percentage of female secondary school entrants is down from the previous year (39 percent).
Women often have less access to legal and financial assistance, and wives are often victims of discriminatory inheritance practices in which the majority of the estate is taken unlawfully by the deceased husband's family. Women are usually at a disadvantage in marriage, family, and property rights, but they have begun to speak out against abuse and discrimination. Households headed by women are represented disproportionately in the lowest quarter of income distribution. In a country where 85 percent of the population is rural, the majority of farmers are women; 70 percent of the rural female population farm full time. Typically, women work more hours than men to complete the same farm tasks because they rarely have comparable tools and equipment and remain responsible for all household tasks. Women have limited access to agricultural extension services, training, and credit. Some progress has been made in all of these areas with gender training for agricultural extension workers and the gradual introduction of rural credit programs for women. The participation of women in the limited formal labor market is particularly constrained; they constitute less than 5 percent of managerial and administrative staff.
Women face significant health problems. The country has a high maternal mortality rate. HIV/AIDS is a major threat, and females in the 15 to 24 age bracket are three to four times more likely to be HIV positive than men.
The Law Commissioner has undertaken a review of legislation that discriminates against women and has proposed legislation to bring the law into compliance with new constitutional standards. By year's end, 61 of 65 relevant laws had been reviewed. In 1997 Parliament passed an affiliation bill that raised the minimum level of child support. In 1998 Parliament passed a wills and inheritance bill that increased widows' rights.
The Government addresses women's concerns through the Ministry of Gender, Youth, and Community Services. The National Commission on Women in Development coordinates government and NGO activities. The Gender Initiative Network, an informal association of women's NGO's, attempts to bring together the largely urban women's rights activists and the overwhelming rural majority to discuss common interests; however, it did not take specific initiatives during the year.
The Constitution provides for equal treatment of children under the law, and the Government greatly increased spending on children's health and welfare. The Government established free primary education for all children in 1994, although education is not compulsory. Well over half of the country's children live in poverty, mostly in rural areas. Children in rural households headed by women are among the poorest. A few charitable organizations attempted to reduce the number of child beggars in urban areas and find alternative care for them. The problem of street children worsened as the number of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS increased. In 1995 there were an estimated 140,000 children who had lost their mother to AIDS, and this figure is expected to increase to 300,000 by 2000.Such children and other orphans normally are cared for by extended family members.
Only one-third of children have easy access to safe drinking water. Infant mortality is high. Child malnutrition is a serious problem.
There are societal patterns of abuse of children. A few small ethnic groups practice female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. The Government took no action against FGM during the year. The media also have begun to report on the sexual abuse of children, especially in relation to traditional practices of initiation. While rites to initiate girls into their future adult roles are still secret, information suggests that abusive practices are widespread and quite damaging. Also, the belief that children are unlikely to be HIV positive contributes to the sexual abuse of minors.
People with Disabilities
The Government has not mandated accessibility to buildings and services for the disabled, but one of the national goals in the Constitution is to support the disabled through greater access to public places, fair opportunities in employment, and full participation in all spheres of society. There are both public and privately supported schools and training centers, which assist individuals with disabilities. There are also several self-supporting businesses run by and for persons with disabilities. In December 1998, President Muluzi established a new cabinet-level position, the Minister of State Responsible for Persons with Disabilities.
Malawians of African heritage are members of indigenous tribes and are not discriminated against by government or society. There is no legal discrimination against citizens of Asian heritage, although societal tensions exist between the communities of African and Asian origin.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The 1996 Labor Relations Act (LRA) governs labor issues. Workers have the legal right to form and join trade unions; however, union membership is low due to the small percentage of the work force in the formal sector (about 12 percent), the lack of awareness of worker rights and benefits, and a resistance on the part of many employees to joining unions. Only 13 percent of persons employed in the formal sector belong to unions. Accurate statistics on the numbers of union members are not available.
Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers' Organizations in the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT). Army personnel and police may not belong to trade unions, but other civil servants are allowed to form unions. There are no unusually difficult registration procedures. Unions are independent of the government, parties, and other political forces.
Although there are no restrictions on the number of union federations, the country has only one, the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU). All unions are affiliated with it.
Mechanisms for protecting internationally recognized worker rights are weak. There are serious manpower shortages at the Ministry of Labor; as a result, there are almost no labor standards inspections.
The LRA allows members of a registered union to strike only after all dispute settlement procedures established in a collective agreement and conciliation procedures have failed. The law requires a notice in writing to the employer and the MOLVT at least 7 days before a strike. The law also forbids the temporary replacement of labor, and allows peaceful picketing during strikes. However, members of a registered union in "essential services" do not have the right to strike. Essential services are specified as services whose interruption would endanger the life, health, or personal safety of the whole or part of the population; they are determined by the Industrial Relations Court upon application by the Minister of Labor. The law provides similar procedures for lockouts.Laws do not specifically prohibit retaliation against strikers. There is no prohibition on actions against unions that are not registered legally. Arbitration rulings are legally enforceable.
Unions may form or join federations, and have the right to affiliate with and participate in international workers' organizations, with the permission of the Government.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The LRA requires that at least 20 percent of employees (excluding senior managerial staff) belong to a union before such a union can engage in collective bargaining at the enterprise level. The LRA requires at least 15 percent union membership for collective bargaining at the sector level. The law provides for the establishment of industrial councils in the absence of collective agreements for sector-level bargaining. Industrial council functions include wage negotiation, dispute resolution, and industry-specific labor policy development. Collective agreements are binding legally, and both parties must deposit them with the Registrar of Trade Unions.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and requires that employers reinstate workers dismissed because of union activities.
Parliament approved legislation to establish export-processing zones (EPZ's) in 1995. At year's end, 25 firms held licenses to operate under EPZ status, and all were operational. The full range of labor regulations applies to the EPZ's.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced labor, and such labor is not generally used. There are allegations that some large agricultural estates engage in the practice. The law does not prohibit specifically forced and bonded labor by children.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Constitution defines children as persons less than 16 years of age. It prohibits the employment of children in work that is hazardous, harmful, or interferes with their education. Primary education is free and universal, but not compulsory. Budgetary constraints largely preclude minimum work age and child labor law enforcement by police and MOLVT inspectors. There is significant child labor on tobacco and tea farms, subsistence farms, and in domestic service. There is no special legal restriction on children's work hours, largely due to extreme poverty and longstanding cultural tradition. The law does not prohibit forced and bonded labor by children specifically; however, forced and bonded labor in general is prohibited by law. Nonetheless, at least one local NGO has reported that in urban areas it is not uncommon to find young girls working as domestic servants, receiving little or no wages, and existing in a state of indentured servitude (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The MOLVT sets separate urban and rural minimum wage rates based on recommendations of the Tripartite Wage Advisory Board composed of representatives of labor, government, and the private sector. The urban minimum wage amounts to about $0.58 (MK24.80) per day, including $0.07 (MK3) for rent; in all other areas it is roughly $0.41 (MK17.50) per day, including $0.04 (MK2) for rent. These minimum wage rates, the result of a revision in August 1998 following a 40 percent devaluation of the currency, remain insufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Wage earners tend to supplement their incomes through farming activities. The MOLVT lacks the resources to enforce the minimum wage effectively. However, the minimum wage largely is irrelevant for the great majority of citizens, who earn their livelihood outside the formal wage sector.
The maximum legal workweek is 48 hours, with a mandatory weekly 24-hour rest period. The laws require payment for overtime work and prohibit compulsory overtime. In practice employers frequently violate statutory time restrictions.
The law protects foreign workers in correct legal status. Illegal foreign workers are subject to deportation.
In November 1998, the Government issued a revised "policy statement" and new guidelines for the issuance and renewal of [expatriate] employment permits that underscored its desire to make such permits readily available to foreigners. The 1998 guidelines mandated that processing times for temporary employment permit (TEP) applications not exceed 40 working days. Nonetheless, slow and inconsistent processing of TEP applications caused concern and sometimes hardship to businessmen, teachers, health workers, and missionaries. Foreign firms continue to complain that processing times for TEP applications exceed the 40-day maximum mandated in the 1998 policy statement.
The Workers' Compensation Act includes extensive occupational health and safety standards. Enforcement of these standards by the MOLVT is erratic. Workers – particularly in industrialjobs – often work without basic safety clothing and equipment. Workers dismissed for filing complaints about workplace conditions have the right to file a complaint at the labor office or sue the employer for wrongful dismissal. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. However, given the low level of education of most workers and the high level of unemployment, they are unlikely to exercise this right.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons. A court ruling during the year acquitted a local businesswoman of luring three Malawian girls to the Netherlands and subsequently forcing them into prostitution.