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‘Cultural beliefs, poverty fuelling child marriages’

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Findings of research conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) have indicated that over three-quarters of girls in Thyolo District get married before the age of 18 years.

This was revealed by Girls Empowerment Network (Gnet), which has partnered ICRW, on Saturday, when it launched a project aimed at reducing such cases.

Gnet Executive Director, Faith Phiri, said, in the wake of the findings, there is need to put in place deliberate policies aimed at keeping the girl-child in school.

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“[Among other things, it was found that 80 percent of girls from Thyolo and Phalombe districts get married before the age of 18 years. In addition, four out of every 10 women who deliver at Thyolo District Hospital are teenage mothers. Poverty and negative cultural beliefs such as kusasa fumbi [sexual cleasing] are some of the factors contributing to increased cases of child marriages in the two districts,” Phiri said.

Traditional authorities (T/ As) Nchilamwera of Thyolo and Chiwalo of Phalombe districts admitted that girls are facing problems due to some cultural beliefs.

T/A Nchilamwera said, for example, that he has managed to annul 109 child marriages in his area.

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“Traditional leaders that encourage child marriages in my area risk being fired because such practices negatively affect lives of girls,” Nchilamwera said.

Meanwhile, girl-rights activists in the two districts have expressed optimism that the launch of the four-year Enabling Girls Achieve Gender Equity Project would help reverse the trend.

“We, as a country, cannot continue to watch these girls drop out of school due to early marriages. Therefore, the project will help us reduce cases of girls getting married before the age of 18 years,” Phiri said.

Director of Administration at Thyolo District Council, Ellestina Mmame, said the project would empower community members to protect girls from social ills.

The project, which is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is being implemented in T/As Chiwalo and Nazombe in Phalombe District, as well as T/As Changata and Nchilamwera in Thyolo District.

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