According to a Unicef survey, Malawi has the 12th highest prevalence of child marriage in the world. 42% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 10 is married before her 15th birthday.
Regional variations were seen where girls in the central region marry at a slightly older age compared to the Northern and Southern regions. A study from 2017 showed that ending child marriage in Malawi could generate USD 167 million in earnings and productivity.
To deal with the alarming situation, a brave woman, Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in Dedza District of central Malawi who wields power over almost 900,000 people is not afraid to use her authority to help women and girls in her district.
Over the past four years, she has negated more than 850 child marriages and sent hundreds of young woman back to school to pursue their education. She also initiated the process to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls as young as seven years old to attend sexual initiation camps where they go to learn how to have sex and please their partners. Sexual initiation practices are really disturbing and moreover the girls are not taught or informed about the precautionary measures to avoid any sexually transmitted disease which makes it more unacceptable especially in a country where 1 in 10 people has HIV. She also threatened to dismiss any chiefs who continue to allow or ignore these controversial practices.
Malawi raised the legal age to marry to 18, yet parental consent was a loop-hole which was allowing younger girls to get married. Kachindamoto ordered 50 sub chiefs in her district to sign an agreement to end child marriage in Dedza district. She found out that a few male chiefs were still approving child marriages and she suspended them until they annulled the unions. 330 such cases were reported in June 2015. The brave chief sent the children back to school by bearing their school fees from her own money. She also suggested in parliament that the minimum age of marriage should be raised to 21.
Girls are often married early as they are seen as a family burden. Kachindamoto’s attitude and effective measures have made her a vital supporter in the fight for women’s and children’s right in Malawi. She was born in Dedza district and was working as a secretary for over 25 years in another district until she was called to come home and serve as a chief. On returning she was dismayed by the sight of 12 years old girls with babies and young husband. She then decided to take action and was quick to set up measures and laws.
Kachindamoto has faced plenty of opposition to her efforts and measures by parents and community members, she even received death threats. However, she remains determined to continue with her battle and to change laws for the betterment of Malawi females and their futures. She focuses on education and believes if young women and girls are educated, they can be and have anything they want
Organisations and individuals in a position to do so must encourage girls to pursue their education while also educating parents who believe that child marriage is the solution to prevent premarital pregnancies, sexual abuse and protecting their daughters economically.
Empowering girls of their basic rights to say no can also help. It is a basic human and legal right for a girl to say no to getting married. If you suspect a case or you know somebody trapped in a child marriage, take actions today by reporting to the authorities.
Child Marriage is still a taboo subject in many countries. People are ashamed to openly talk about it or disclose any case. Discuss it among peers, friends or colleagues. Educate them about the topic the more people know about it the more likely they are to report a case. Nowadays, many people are present on social media; you can simply share this article on your social media accounts and help spread the word.
Featured image | Theresa Kachindamoto | wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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