In November 2016, 14 primary school learners from Nkhata Bay, on the shores of Lake Malawi, filed an application for judicial review of the fines imposed on them by a local magistrate. The case will be heard by the Mzuzu High Court on 27 April 2017.
In April 2016, a local primary school suspended a number of pregnant female students and the young men responsible for the pregnancy, denying them their right to education. The National Policy currently provides for the suspension of one academic year of pregnant school girls and the boys responsible for the pregnancy. The learners were referred to the Traditional Authority’s Child Protection Team and from there to the local magistrate. The learners and their parents were summoned to appear before the magistrate who ordered each parent to pay a K10 000 fine ($14). Those learners who were able to pay the fine were released, whilst those who were unable to do so, were placed in police custody until the fines were paid. In some instances the learners’ parents were also detained until the fine was paid.
The applicants are seeking the review of a Magistrates Court decision to fine parents of students who were pregnant as well as those male students responsible for the pregnancies. The case also challenges the unlawful detention of the students in police cells until such fines were paid. The applicants argue that the fines and detention were inconsistent with common law notions of fairness, legality and rationality and with the rights to liberty, education and other constitutional rights. The case also challenges the decision of the magistrate or Child Protection Committee of prohibiting or impeding the learners who were in custody from sitting for and writing MANEB examinations, as violating their right to education and other constitutional provisions.
The learners’ application is supported by Youth Watch Society in Mzuzu and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. The learners are represented by Victor Gondwe of John Tennyson and Associates.
The case highlights the importance of the rights of all persons to access primary education as well as the right not to be detained on arbitrary grounds.
What: ON and 13 Others v Child Protection Team, Miscellaneous Civil Cause 116 of 2016
Where: Mzuzu High Court, Malawi
When: 27 April 2017