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One for the child

“Welcome Mr. Phukaphuka,” I warmly uttered the words as I gently stood up from my seat. I was very pleased that I was finally meeting him. We had been rescheduling our appointments for quite a while now owing to his busy schedule as a policeman cum legal officer. Mr. Aulerious Phukaphuka has been in the police service for over a decade and his resume was rife with a plethora of achievements that he is so proud of – achievements in the child rights field. Among his touted accomplishments is the establishment of a special legal clinic specially dedicated to handling child-related cases ranging from child marriages to defilement and others.

He is also a beneficiary of our university scholarship programme. His story is enthralling and I could not wait to hear it.

“Thank you. Finally, we meet,” Aulerious chuckled, almost as if resonating my thoughts. He slowly lowered himself on the chair, crossed his legs, and took a deep breath as if mustering the courage to take a deep-water dive. From his humble appearance and remarkable sense of humour, it was hard to tell that I was in the presence of an experienced lawyer who was fiercely dedicated to fighting for the protection of child rights using any and all available resources at his disposal. “I know you’re eager to hear my story but first, here is the beginning…” Aurelius started. I pushed the start button on my recorder and gently pushed the device closer to him. I did not want to miss a word.

The beginning started with Aurelius’ journey as a cop. He joined the police service in 2005 as a junior officer where most of his work centered around prosecution. He loved his job because he was directly involved in gathering evidence to bring perpetrators of injustice to book. As Aurelius explained, his office essentially became the court where he could frequently be found. His job as a prosecutor also introduced him to the field of child justice which fascinated him even more. It was also during that time that he slowly began getting interested in becoming a full-time legal practitioner. This gradual interest in law was cemented one day in court during a trial of a homicide case that he attended.

“What drew my attention was this young woman from a team of lawyers representing the Ministry of Justice. The way she confidently presented the case of the prosecution team mesmerized me…” Aulerious recalled, adding that it was a turning point for him. It stirred in him the strong zeal to pursue the legal profession. That determination saw him returning to secondary school to re-write his secondary school examinations. That was his only gateway to law school. Four years later, Aurelius had achieved the first step of his dream and made it to the intake of legal studies at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi.

That was in 2012.

It was at college where he founded Mthandizi (Helper) Child Rights Legal Clinic, an organization, which would later morph to become an instrument for the advancement of child rights protection through pro bono legal services. It seemed like all was rosy and cozy for Aulerious in his university studies until the University of Malawi hiked tuition fees by almost 300 percent and put Aulerious’ dream to a grinding halt.

“I was left with only a year to complete my studies,” he said to me. Even worse, he was dropped from the list of students receiving the government bursary that year and this was the last straw. He suddenly found himself in a pickle. The fact that this bad situation ironically coincided when there were about two weeks to the opening of his final year only added to his frustrations.

“I approached several organizations for help,” he told me, “None of them were willing to help.” Things got so bad that he was left with one option – withdraw and return a year later, with the hope that he would have sourced funds for the tuition fees by then. But it was a long shot, considering that Auleroius depended on his job to earn a living and what he earned was multiple times short of the new tuition fees. Frustrations came piling down hard on him. The thought of forcefully taking a one-year break to hunt for tuition fees weighed heavily.

Luck came knocking on his door when he got wind of our university scholarship programme within the same period. And things took a turn for the best when he was among the awardees of the scholarship programme in 2016. The scholarship sealed the deal and prevented his withdrawal from college. In 2017, Aulerious completed his studies and became a legal officer and prosecutor. He also became one of the first child rights prosecutors in Malawi. Together with a team of fellow legal practitioners, Aulerious has worked in close collaboration with community leaders and churches to bring to light several cases involving children to ensure that justice for the child is served.

“I love working with children and I will make sure that the rights of the child are protected by all means necessary,” he concluded our chat with a firm statement. As I switched off the recorder and rose to leave, I could not help but admire Aurelius’ resolve to see a world where the child is safe.