Malawian Chief Annuls 300 Child Marriages, Sends Them To School, Gets It Done!

Malawi-child-marriage

Earlier this year, it was estimated that the African nation of Malawi had the highest rate of child marriages happening in the world. In April of this year, the same country also made a drastic move to change this horrific epidemic. The Malawian parliament and President Peter Mutharika unanimously approved a bill to raise the legal age for marriage to 18 years. Wow!

According to statistics, 50% of girls in Malawi are married before their 18th birthday. The thing about child marriages, aside from the obvious not being ready for it thing, is that it is an epidemic that prevents young girls (and young boys in cases where the groom is also under age) from attending school, from having a relatively normal childhood, and from being allowed to develop at their own pace.

The previous laws concerning marriage in Malawi stated the minimum age was 15 years, but it was not upheld consistently and many girls were still married under this age limit. And of course a law is never enough, it has to be enforced and ingrained into the very fabric of society for it to even be effective.

The International Center for Research of Women states that if drastic action isn’t taken to abolish child marriages worldwide, it is estimated over 140 million girls will be forced to get married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. Poverty is a huge factor in child marriage situations, and girls born into poor families are twice as likely to get married underage as it is considered a burden lifted off the parents’ shoulders.

Malawi-child-marriage

It is horrible to think that even in 2015 there are attitudes which view young girls as expendable creatures who become a financial burden on a family. Another shocking fact is that childbirth and pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide.

While there are cases of young girls marrying young boys, a more likely scenario is that underage girls are forced to marry men decades older than them, which means a possible increase of STDs as these men have more sexual experience, and the girls often find themselves in abusive and violent situations.

The Daily Mail documented the story of a 15 year old Malawian girl called Myness who married a man old enough to be her grandfather. He was an alcoholic and Myness tried to escape the marriage. Eventually she was rescued from her dire situation from the Child Protection Committee in her village when they learned she was getting high grades in school and wanted to help her continue with her education. Myness hasn’t seen her husband since.

Not everyone is as lucky as her, however, which is why what one female Senior Chief has recently done in the country has set the bar high for what will hopefully be the start of the end of child marriage in Malawi.

Senior-Chief-Inkosi-Kachindamoto

Inkosi Kachindamoto of Dedza took it upon herself to put the new ban into effect by annulling over 300 marriages within her constituency.

“I have terminated 330 marriages of which 175 were girl-wives and 155 were boy-fathers, I wanted them to go to school and that has worked. I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school…no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time,” she told Nyasa Times.

“No village head, GVH or church clergy [are] to officiate marriage before scrutinizing the birth dates of the couple,” she added.

Chief Inkosi found that three quarters of the child marriages within her constituency were consented to by both parents and village heads, she has since suspended a number of village heads in order to send a message to any others who might be tempted to go against the new law.

Senior-Chief-Inkosi-Kachindamoto

The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill outlines very specific laws to the legality of marriage, divorce, consent and equality going forward, and cites a very important United Nations mandate in order to protect the lives of young girls.

“The commission noted that in the case of the girl child, marriage under the age of 18 years is a health hazard. Early marriage also has negative development implications, and unless early marriages involving girls are discouraged, the attainment of the Millennial Development Goals, especially goal 3 which emphasizes the need for girl child education, or the goal on Human Capital Development under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, may be elusive,” it says.

We love that a senior female chief has lead by example in seeking to allow the young girls under her charge to have a chance at a viable future. We need new laws that protect and serve ALL people, and we need to continue seeing activism in action as it is the only way to create change.

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3 Comments

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