Alleged ‘Sex-for-Grades’ Scheme at Malawian Universities

What You Need to Know:

A statement released today by Malawi’s Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) has shed light on claims that professors at some of Malawi’s top universities, both public and private, are coercing female students to perform sexual favors in return for passing grades. 

Local papers such as the Nyasa times and the Malawi Voice began reporting on the claims in 2019, with CSEC stating “Reports spanning several years expose a distressing pattern of abuse and exploitation within Malawi’s educational institutions. Incidents such as a private university seeking counseling for a student coerced into sexual favors for grades, as reported by Malawi Voice in November 2022, and public university lecturers leaking exams to students with whom they had conjugal relationships, as documented by Nyasa Times in September 2020, underscore the pervasive nature of the problem. Similar allegations highlighted by Face of Malawi and Nyasa Times in December 2019 reveal a troubling trend of female students being coerced into sexual acts in exchange for grades. These reports reflect a longstanding issue that demands urgent action.”

According to the Nyasa Times, a young woman who has by this time completed her degree, came forward with allegations that a Humanities lecturer from Mzuzu University coerced her and at least 15 other students into performing sexual acts. The woman, who has remained anonymous for legal reasons, claims the ‘sextortion’ she suffered over four years left her with lasting psychological damage, claiming she considered suicide on numerous occasions during her time as a student. 

The Details:

CSEC, which is composed of 82 independent and voluntary organizations pushing for the right to quality education in Malawi, has lambasted university authorities as well as the Ministry of Education for not acting upon the allegations sooner. 

Additionally, the group has called upon the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) to conduct a public hearing regarding the matter.

“The continued reported cases of sex-for-grades are not only a dent on the university authorities (Chancellor and management) but also the entire university and Malawian communities. These reprehensible acts not only undermine the credibility of our educational institutions but also erode the trust and confidence of the broader society in the integrity of our academic system. Universities should be bastions of learning, promoting dignity and equality, yet these exploitative practices tarnish their reputation and make them unsafe environments for genuine scholarly pursuits,” the statement said.

At present, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Mphatso Nkoonera, has not released a statement.

So, What Now?:

A 2014 United Nations Children’s Fund report estimated that ‘one in five young adult women experienced sexual abuse in Malawi prior to age 18, primarily perpetrated by boyfriends, classmates, and aquaintances.’ While a 2015 report on Gender-based violence against adolescent and young adult women in low and middle income countries estimated that 25% of Malawian women aged 15 to 19 characterized their sexual debut as forced. 

Adding to the issue is the social stigma associated with reporting sexual abuse in many sub-saharan countries. Women are often ostracized or viewed as ‘tainted’ if they report their sexual abuse. A National Library of Medicine report on the sexual abuse of minors in Malawi by Dr. V.M Lema highlights that “Also of concern are cultural practices, such as the belief that sex with a virgin child can cure sexually transmitted diseases or bring riches, as well as a tendency for adult males to attempt to avoid HIV infection through sex with children.” 

However, CSEC’s statement is a step in the right direction to bringing to light the issues facing many young female scholars in Malawi. The organization has called “upon all stakeholders — administrators, faculty, students, government officials, and civil society organizations — to unite in this noble cause. Let us forge a path forward, where education is a beacon of enlightenment, untainted by the shadows of exploitation. Together, we can dismantle the structures of oppression and cultivate a culture of respect, equality, and integrity within our universities.”

In March 2022, Mzuzu University, where the aforementioned woman claims her abuse took place, fired one lecturer and suspended three others for conduct violations and sex-for-grades allegations.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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