Child Diversion Programme

What is Mwai Wosinthika?

Mwai Wosinthika is a diversion programme that is delivered by Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI) in Lilongwe in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development (the Ministry), the Malawi Police Services (MPS) and the Malawi Judiciary (the Judiciary).

Diversion seeks to divert children who come in conflict with the law away from the formal criminal justice system in order to handle their cases in the community instead.

The programme is called Mwai Wosinthika (meaning ‘a chance for change’) and it is intended as an alternative to prosecution for children in conflict with the law.

The programme aims to give young people the opportunity to change their circumstances. Most importantly, the programme seeks to empower young people by giving them the responsibility and the choice to change their behaviour so that they can continue their education and go on to be productive members of their community and of Malawian society.

Since its inception, the programme has received the full support of the core institutions in the Malawian criminal justice system, i.e., the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judiciary, the Malawi Police Service, the Malawi Prison Service and the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.

Each 12-week programme offers space for approximately 20 participants, aged between 10 and 17 years. Many of the sessions are activity-based, which allows participants to interact more freely. The children may be referred to IRLI by officers of the Malawi Police Service, by social welfare officers, or by the Child Justice Court.

The sessions are facilitated by social welfare officers from the Social Welfare Department of the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare. IRLI is also working in partnership with Theatre for Change, an NGO that assists in facilitating the programme.

The long-term objective is that this programme will be used as a model for similar programmes elsewhere in Malawi and that it will ultimately form part of the diversion policy for children coming into conflict with the law throughout the country.

‘Changing Faces’ Session of Mwai Wosinthika Child Diversion Programme where children use masks to express their feelings and learn how to manage their anger, July 2018. Photo Credit: Maya Linstrum-Newman

‘Changing Faces’ Session of Mwai Wosinthika Child Diversion Programme where children use masks to express their feelings and learn how to manage their anger, July 2018. Photo Credit: Jolene Quinn

What is Diversion?

Diversion is the process of ‘diverting’ a person who has come into conflict with the law away from the criminal justice system, with or without conditions. In other words, instead of charging and prosecuting an individual who has been arrested and has admitted their wrongdoing, the police and courts can choose to deal with him or her outside of the criminal justice system. Options range from caution and release or referral to social welfare, to participation in a diversion programme and/or reparation or restitution.

The diversion process may be initiated by police officers, social welfare officers or by the courts, as the case may be. There are multiple diversion options and the one employed should be tailored to the particular individual and case in question. As diversion may be triggered on first contact with the law, it allows police officers to deal with offenders in a more effective manner.

It allows offenders, who have admitted their wrongdoing and shown a willingness to change, to return to their lives and communities. Families are not disproportionately affected and, simultaneously, the burden on the prisons and court system is lessened. Diversion also lessens the risk of re-offending and supports the rehabilitation of offenders. It encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions and to change their behaviour.

Child diversion is particularly important, since children who offend often do not understand their offence or the impact it can have. Furthermore, a background of poverty or poor family relations can often lead children to offend. The Child Care, Protection and Justice Act 2010 offers several options for diversion – the Mwai Wosinthika programme is only one such option. As a form of diversion, the programme aims to deliver real and sustainable outcomes for young Malawians in conflict with the law or who are at high risk of offending.