Regulation of the Day 162: Breaking Wind

The southeast African country of Malawi is about to make farting illegal. The government there is trying to “mould responsible and disciplined citizens.” Enforcement will be a problem. Even in places where the law allows gas to pass, fouling the air still violates social norms. People routinely shift blame, making claims such as “He who smelt it, dealt it.”

A Malawian woman told the Daily Mail, “Children will openly deny having passed bad air and point at an elder. Culturally, this is very embarrassing.” It also makes it difficult for a court to determine guilt.

While this particular regulation is quite humorous, it is a symptom of a serious problem in Malawi. The rule of law is weak there, and this has human consequences. Malawi ranks 106th out of 141 countries in the most recent edition of James Gwartney’s Economic Freedom of the World Index. Countries ranked that low usually suffer from predatory governments and arbitrary justice systems. They also tend to have crushing poverty rates.

It is easy to imagine officials using this ordinance against political opponents, or even people they simply don’t like. Nor is breaking wind the only new offense in the government’s new morality initiative. The Daily Mail hints at the potential consequences:

The crime will be enforceable in a new “Local Court” system which will also have powers to punish a range of other crimes in the bill set to be debated in the country’s parliament.

These include insulting the modesty of a woman, challenging to fight a duel, and trespassing on a burial place.

It also outlaws pretending to be a fortune teller, according to local press in the country.

Opposition leaders complain the new courts will be “kangaroo courts.”

Image credit: al_green’s flickr photostream.