Despite a huge maize harvest in 2007, the country remained impoverished. Political squabbles hampered the passage of a budget aimed at development and poverty alleviation. The prevalence of HIV and AIDS remained high, resulting in an increase in the number of households headed by children. Cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions in prisons persisted. The High Court ruled mandatory death sentences unconstitutional.
Tension between the majority opposition United Democratic Front and the Malawi Congress Party and President wa Mutharika’s minority Democratic Progress Party reached its peak in September when Parliament initially refused to consider the 2007/2008 budget supporting development policies. Civic pressure eventually forced Parliament to consider the budget. On 13 September, following the passage of the budget, President wa Mutharika dissolved Parliament until May 2008.
Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, arrested on treason charges in April 2006, remained under house arrest throughout 2007. He appeared in court during the first week of December and was released on bail.
Although the law prohibits child labour, children as young as 10 were reported to be working on tobacco farms.
On 27 April the High Court declared mandatory death sentences unconstitutional. The Court found that the death penalty constituted inhuman punishment. There were 23 prisoners on death row. The last execution in Malawi took place in 1992.
Overcrowding and lack of adequate food and health care in prisons persisted. Some 11,000 prisoners were held in prisons designed to hold 5,000 people. People awaiting trial constituted 17 per cent of the prison population. Approximately 110 deaths of prisoners were recorded in 2007. The Southern African Litigation Centre called on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to undertake an investigative mission to Malawi.
Health – HIV and AIDS
Fourteen per cent of Malawi’s population were living with HIV or AIDS; one million children were believed to have been orphaned by HIV or AIDS-related deaths. While approximately 60,000 people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for free at state hospitals, poverty and the stigma associated with the virus continued to impede access to treatment. AIDS is a priority in the government’s growth and development strategy. Some 200,000 people living with HIV or AIDS were receiving food assistance from the World Food Programme.