Bill to Criminalize Marital Rape Creates Controversy in Malawi

The BBC reports that a bill that make marital rape illegal is causing a great deal of controversy in the African nation of Malawi. Under Malawi’s current law, rape is nonconsensual sex with a member of the opposite sex who is not one’s spouse. Forcible sex with one’s spouse is not illegal.

Seodie White of Women in Law in South Africa told the BBC,

Courts have generally viewed rape, as created under the penal code, as not applying to married couples. And, based on our cultural beliefs, the consent to marriage has been recognised as automatic consent to sex even when the woman does not feel like it.

White’s assessment of the situation is confirmed by Malawi Supreme Court judge Duncan Tambala who the BBC reported as saying that making forcible sex within marriage a crime would be inconsistent with the concept of marriage itself.

“By entering into marriage each spouse is taken to have consented to sexual intercourse with the other spouse during the existence of his or her marriage.” Tambala said. “Marital rape, spousal battering and emotional abuse are not offences under domestic law.”

The proposed bill would punish marital rape with a minimum of 6 years in jail, but men interviewed by the BBC and African Eye News Service claimed the law would harm Malawi’s anti-AIDS effort and destroy families.


Row over Malawi marital rape bill. The BBC, December 26, 2001.

Marital rape is impossible. Brian Ligomeka, African Eye News Service, December 20, 2001.

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