Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

Malawi: Update to MWI23160.E of 22 February 1996 on spousal abuse and police protection; reports of forced marriage

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 22 November 2002
Citation / Document Symbol MWI39672.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Malawi: Update to MWI23160.E of 22 February 1996 on spousal abuse and police protection; reports of forced marriage, 22 November 2002, MWI39672.E, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis 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.

According to a 1998 All Africa News Agency article, violence against women is on the rise in Malawi (15 June 1998). At a conference on the prevention of violence against women, the Minister for Women, Youth and Community Services in Malawi stated that:

Domestic violence against women takes various forms like wife battering, girl child defilement, sexual abuse, deprivation of necessities such as food and economic supplies, desertion, abusive language, wife raping and child labour. Some religious beliefs in both the Christian and Moslem faiths also perpetuate violence against women and such acts are done in disguise of praying to God (SADC 5-9 March 1998).

An Africa Online (AFROL) report on Malawi goes on to say that:

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... (n.d.).

Furthermore, a Ministry of Health report revealed that 75 percent of wives are raped by their husbands in Malawi (New African 1 Apr. 2002). Gender activists are now campaigning in Malawi to have marital rape legislated against (ibid.). Supreme Court Judge Anastasia Msosa maintained that marital rape is often seen as a family issue, but that it should be included in the law (ibid.) However, Judge Duncan Tambala remarked that "if 75% of men rape their wives, the same percentage would have to be slapped with a jail sentence as rapists – which would mean the fall of the family in Malawi" (ibid.).

Vera Chirwa, the founder of Women's Voice, a non-profit human rights organization that supports the social welfare and legal rights of women (Women's Voice 2001), made the following comments on wife beating in Malawi:

It is accepted that a man has the right to reprimand his wife and children, said Chirwa, and women activists are pushing for making it a criminal offense in the Malawi constitution.

"Women are actually told that if men hit them, they should not hit back," said Chirwa. "In my culture, the Ngoni, if a woman hits back, she pays her husband with a chicken. Women also don't take their husbands to the law because their husbands are breadwinners. If men go to jail, women and children suffer financially" (Women's International Net Dec. 1998).

Several sources indicate that despite the acknowledgement that domestic violence exists in Malawi, it is either under-reported (SADC 5-9 Mar. 1998) or the police are reluctant to intervene (AFROL n.d.; ibid. 21 Dec. 2000). In an attempt to encourage gender sensitivity among the police and prosecutors in Malawi, workshops were offered by the organization Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) (ibid.). According to Maggie Chipasula of WLSA:

[I]n one instance a police officer admitted that they would try to resolve the matter between the two spouses or would dissuade the woman from taking further steps.

Chipasula said that there was a case whereby a woman was being assisted by a lawyer to seek police protection against a spouse who was beating her up badly using objects like hosepipes and other things. "The police refused to assist and instead called the woman aside and scolded her for wasting both the police's and the lawyer's time instead of settling the family dispute with the ankhoswe [family advisors]," she said (ibid.).

In March 2001, the Society for the Advancement of Women (SAW) opened a shelter in the capital of Lilongwe to house, counsel, and offer legal advice for victims of gender-related violence (ibid. 26 Mar. 2001). AFROL reported that the shelter was "the first of its kind in Malawi" (ibid.). According to AFROL, SAW intended to open a second shelter in the town of Mpingwe, Blantyre, in April 2001 (ibid.); however no reports whether the shelter opened as planned could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate (ibid.).

The aforementioned human rights organization, Women's Voice, is active in 25 rural areas in Malawi and is made up of activists, lawyers, educators, and researchers (Africanews 17 Oct. 2000). According to its Website, Women's Voice "is committed to the education and promotion of women and children's rights through training, civic education, advocacy programmes, action oriented research and forums for dialogue" (2001). Women's Voice project activities include: human rights and AIDS campaigns, eradicating violence against women in schools, paralegal services, and capacity building training sessions (ibid.).

Other recent activities organized to fight violence against women in Malawi include the meeting of approximately 100 women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM) who came together for three days to review a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) anti-violence action plan and to raise awareness about violence against women in Malawi (African Church Information Service 21 Oct. 2002).

According to an 8 March 2001 BBC News article, Malawi's marriage rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age is 36 percent. Forced marriages, according to the source, often occur in countries with large Muslim populations and in clans that practice polygamy (BBC News 8 Mar. 2001). Although not referring only to Malawi, the article states that:

The girls are forced to wed distant relatives who are often three or four times their age and who sometimes have chosen the girl long before puberty. ...

Forced marriages have increased in the last decade, when poverty and economic conditions got worse – families often receive hundreds, even thousands of dollars as marriage dowry (ibid.).

An Africanews report discusses how widows in Malawi may be forced to marry their brothers-in-law:

If they refuse to marry their brothers-in-law, the property women own with their deceased husbands is grabbed from them. Because they cannot manage to go to urban centres and hire lawyers, women bow down to the needs of their brother-in-laws to avoid losing wealth they have accumulated (17 Oct. 2000).

No other reports about forced marriage in Malawi were found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


AFROL. 26 March 2001. "Shelter For Battered Women Opened in Malawi." [Accessed 14 Nov. 2002]

_____. 21 December 2000. "Gender Issues Paramount For Malawi Police Service." [Accessed 14 Nov. 2002]

_____. n.d. "Malawi." [Accessed 14 Nov. 2002]

African Church Information Service. 21 October 2002. "Struggle to End Violence Against Women Not Over." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

Africanews. 17 October 2000. Issue 55. Brian Ligomeka. "Malawi: Domestic Violence Rampant in Rural Malawi." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

All Africa News Agency. 15 June 1998. "Abuse Against Women Escalates in Malawi." (NEXIS)

BBC News. 8 March 2001. Ticky Monekosso. "Africa's Forced Marriages." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

New African. 1 April 2002. Hobbs Gama. "Not Tonight, Darling: Malawi." (NEXIS)

South African Development Community (SADC). 5-9 March 1998. "The Cultural, Religious and Economic Human Rights Context of Violence Against Women and Human Rights: The Case of Malawi." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

Women's International Net. December 1998. Issue 16A. Joyce Jenje-Makwenda. "Fearless Fighter: Activist Vera Chirwa." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

Women's Voice. 2001. "Women's Voice Homepage." [Accessed 18 Nov. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites, including:

Amnesty International (AI)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

United Nations (Division for the Advancement of Women)

World News Connection (WNC)

Search engines, including:

Alta Vista


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld