Steadily, communities seem to be losing respect for human dignity. While elsewhere people take pleasure in older persons, it’s a different story here in Malawi as older persons are prone to victimization and abuse, particularly over witchcraft allegations.
In April 2019, 26 elderly people sought refuge at a police station in Karonga after their houses were demolished on accusations of witchcraft.
In December last year, two women were forced to bury a dead person on their own while one was badly beaten over witchcraft accusations in Mzimba.
Two women were forced to bury a dead body
In 2022 alone, 15 elderly persons were killed and many were abused over witchcraft suspicion, according to the Malawi Network of Older Persons Organization (MANEPO).
And this year alone, at least four elders have been killed. On January 1 2023, villagers in Phalombe killed a 72-year-old woman, identified as Maggie Nyengani at Chiringa, for allegedly killing her granddaughter through witchcraft.
The 2016 National Policy for Older Persons equally admits that senior seniors are often abused physically and verbally due to various reasons including suspected witchcraft and superstitious beliefs.
The policy further notes older persons, whose population is increasing, are excluded, marginalized, and prevented from participating fully in development activities based on their age.
According to the 2018 Population and Housing Census, the elderly population went up from six-hundred eighty-four thousand in 2008 to eight hundred ninety-one thousand by 2018, a 30.1 percent increase. National Statistics Office projects that the population of older persons will reach three million by 2050,
Apart from extreme poverty, poor housing conditions and other challenges, older persons are now being subjected to witchcraft accusations, though available laws do not recognize the existence of witchcraft.
Meanwhile, increasing and repeated cases of the brutal murder of elderly people are eroding Evelesi Singano, from Mkutamba village in the area of Traditional Authority Kabudula, of her peace of mind.
Singano, born in 1958, claims there are fears among elderly persons because of their advanced age owing to increasing cases of witchcraft allegations against senior citizens in the country.
Singano: Elderly persons are distressed
Singano, a member of the Mavundikira Care Group in Lilongwe Rural West, claims elderly people are living in fear owing to increasing cases of brutal murder of elderly persons over witchcraft allegations.
“Elderly people are in fear and distressed because they could be next to be accused of practising witchcraft,” says Singano, the mother of seven and over 23 grandchildren.
She, however, says apart from promoting best sanitation and dietary practices, Mavundikira Care Group encourages elderly people to participate in community development activities, promoting and safeguarding them against discrimination that they face in their access to economic and social support services.
“As a group, we are trying to educate communities about our rights but also protecting each other from the physical and psychological abuse we are subjected to resulting from societal prejudices,” says Singano.
Malawi Network for Older Person Organizations (Manepo) says it’s unfortunate that some elderly people are abused, victimized and murdered by their relatives.
Kavala: Elderly persons need protection
Manepo Executive Director, Andrew Kavala observes that older persons are living dangerously in their own country.
“We cannot celebrate the death of even one person, but as we speak now the country has already lost three older persons, all women. It’s very unfortunate and I think we are not doing well.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and attempt to ask very hard questions; what is happening? What do we do? Why are we allowing older persons to go through this kind of barbaric life? Why are cases not being concluded in court?
“We need to be very serious about the protection of older people’s rights and everybody should play their rightful right from the community level, the chiefs, police community structures, the judiciary, the legislature and other sectors,” explains Kavala.
He calls for collaboration and to ensure that everyone is doing the right thing to support the protection of the rights of older persons.
Kavala further calls for enactment of the Older Persons Bill, which he feels will largely support and enhance respect for human dignity, personal freedoms, and the right to life for older persons in the country.
“We are looking forward to seeing the Bill tabled as soon as possible. If it’s not tabled, we will continue to engage the government to see to it that this Bill is tabled so that we have a very strong and appropriate policy and legal framework to support the work on the protection rights of the older persons in the country,” he says.
Malawi Police Service equally condemns the barbaric acts and killings targeting elderly persons and suspected criminals.
Kalaya: Mob justice is illegal
“From the data we have, it is indeed true that cases of mob justice concerning witchcraft allegations are on the increase, especially murders to do with older persons. In the year just gone, we have seen a total of 96 people being killed by mob justice. Out of these, six were older persons and they were killed on suspicion that they were practising witchcraft.
“This is a sharp increase because in 2021 we recorded a total of 62 cases of mob justice out of which four were older persons, who were also killed over witchcraft allegations,” says Peter Kalaya, National Police publicist.
Kalaya says the law enforcement urgency will continue conducting awareness meetings with chiefs and their subjects in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Elderly and Social Welfare and civil society organizations to combat the device.
He claims that most of the people who committed these crimes were arrested and their cases are under investigation and some are appearing before a court of law.
“Mob Justice is illegal and should not be tolerated. The country’s laws do not recognize witchcraft and that calling a person a witch is an offence. Section 16 of the Constitution of Malawi provides that every person has the right to life and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. So, we will continue engaging communities across the country to stop such barbaric acts,” states Kalaya.
Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Jean Sendeza concedes that most of the older persons being abused and killed are women.
Sendeza, therefore advises people to safeguard and take good care of senior citizens in their communities. Apart from committing to pass the bill, Sendeza says the government will use other avenues to improve the welfare of elderly people in the country.
“Most of the elderly people lost their children and do not have anybody to support them. As a government, we have integrated some of them into social cash transfer programmes, and they are also the beneficiaries of several policies that we are implementing.
“The legal framework, which we are looking into, was supposed to pass during the last sitting of Parliament but failed because we had several legislations. We are looking forward to having them during the next sitting and pass them to safeguard the rights of older persons in the country,” says Sendeza.
She reminds young people and perpetrators of these barbaric acts that they will equally get older and subjected to such acts if they don’t take a leading role in reversing the situation and promoting respect for human dignity at all levels.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 urges nations to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
The likely question of the current situation is probably that if the country’s senior citizens are not secured in their communities; where else can they be protected?
Reported by Yamikani Simtowe, MBC Online Services.