In Lesotho, the Child Welfare and Protection Act 2011 prohibits harmful practices, stating in section 16. (1) that “A child has a right to be protected from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including any cultural practice which degrades or is injurious to the physical, psychological, emotional and mental well-being of the child”.

Moreover, in section 17 “A child shall not be subjected to any cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, welfare, dignity or physical, emotional, psychological, mental and intellectual development”.

In Malawi, the Gender Equality Act 2013, a general prohibition of harmful practices is placed under Part II, covering different forms of sex discrimination. In article 5 (1) “A person shall not commit, engage in, subject another person to, or encourage the commission of any harmful practice”. The sentence for such offences is provided for under section 5 (2) of the Act, a maximum fine of 1 million Kwacha and five years of imprisonment.

On November 23, 2016 an HIV-positive Malawian man who confessed that he was paid to have sex with widows and under-age girls was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour for engaging in harmful cultural practices. This was the first case of its kind in Malawi.

Protecting girls from rape and honour killings

On 6 October 2016, the Parliament in Pakistan passed two laws to increase sentences for rapes and honour killings of girls and women, and closed a loophole that allowed many of the killers to go free. Most of the killings have not been prosecuted, due to a tenet of Islamic law that allows killers to go free if they are forgiven by the girl’s or woman’s family. Since the perpetrators are usually family members, such impunity is often the norm. Under the new law, relatives of the victim would only be able to pardon the killer if he is sentenced to capital punishment. However, the culprit would still face a mandatory life sentence.

Rape conviction rates have been almost non-existent, due in large part to various technical obstacles to accessing justice. The penalty in the new law will be imprisonment for 25 years he said. The rape of minors and the mentally and physically disabled has also become punishable under the law.

On 26 July 2017, the Tunisian parliament adopted a law on eliminating violence against women and eliminating impunity for perpetrators, recognizing that violence against women includes economic, sexual, political and psychological violence. Among other things, the law repealed a provision of the penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim. It also criminalizes the employment of children as domestic workers.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

In Burkina Faso, the Penal Code criminalises those that practice FGM/C. Article 380 provides that “Anyone who harms the female genital organs by total ablation, excision, infibulation, desensitisation or any other means shall be punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine ranging from CFA francs 150,000 to 900,000 or by one of these two punishments only. Should this result in death, the punishment shall be five to ten years’ imprisonment”. Furthermore, in Article 381 “The maximum punishment shall be meted out if the guilty party is a member of the medical or paramedical profession. Moreover, he or she may be disbarred from practice by the courts for up to five years.” In Article 382 – “Any person who is aware of acts as defined by Article 380 and who fails to notify the competent authorities shall be punishable by a fine ranging from CFA francs 50,000 to 100,000.”

Sexual slavery, customary servitude and forced labour

“Trokosi”, practiced in Ghana and other West African countries is a religious form of sexual slavery and violence against children that involves sending young virgin girls to religious shrines to atone for the crimes committed by their male relatives. Ghana’s constitutionArticle 16 (1) prohibits slavery and servitude, which includes trokosi.

A more detailed prohibition is included in the Criminal Code, Section 314A: (1) Whoever (a) sends to or receives at any place any person; or (b) participates in or is concerned in any ritual or customary activity in respect of any person with the purpose of subjecting that person to any form of ritual or customary servitude or any form of forced labour related to a customary ritual commits an offense and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than three years.