A child-rights activist says Malawi must find ways to eliminate all cultural factors that promote child marriages.
Memory Banda from Foundation for Girls Leadership says a number of cultural practices, such as initiation ceremonies and their subsequent Kuchotsa Fumbi [sexual cleansing], are fueling early marriages in Malawi.
“These practices are still there, and I feel they have just changed their strategies. In the past, a man was chosen to do the sexual cleansing, but now the girls are told to find a boy of their choice to do the cleansing. These are things we need to deal with,” Banda said.
She was speaking at a panel discussion held recently in Lilongwe under the theme ‘‘Ending Child Marriages in Malawi: A National Call to Action”, organized by the U.S.-based NGO Developing Radio Partners.
Other panelists were National Coordinator for Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) Secretariat Mahara Longwe and Group Village Headman Chibwana of Traditional Authority Mlonyeni in Mchinji.
Banda said there is need for programmes that directly impact the girl child.
“We need to do more on psycho-social counselling. Do we have safe homes we can use to keep our girls who have been rescued from marriages? A lot of money is coming in the country in the name of the girl child but very little is reaching her,” she said.
However, Village Headman Chibwana said that in the past people practiced Shazi or Bulangete la Mfumu in which a girl child was offered to a chief so that he can sleep with her. But such practices no longer happen in his area, he said.
“We have cases of child marriages in our area, but they have not been caused by cultural practices. They are more to do with how the parents are raising the children,” Chibwana said.
Chibwana said that although there are by-laws against child marriages, enforcement has been a challenge because poverty has made it difficult for some to pay even small fines.
According to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, between January and March 2021, at least 20,000 child marriages were recorded, yet fewer than half were annulled.
Meanwhile, Longwe said that through the AGYW, government is promoting a number initiatives aimed at protecting the girl child.
“The AGYW strategy links all stakeholders in the promotion of the welfare of girls and young women. On the issue of child marriages, we are linking all stakeholders to work together at national, district and local levels. We want the stakeholders to discuss the sources of the problem and possible solutions,” Longwe said.
He said in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), government developed the Parent-Child Communication (PCC) Strategy.
“In some cases, girls marry because of cultural influences. PCC comes in to assist children to be talking to their parents about sexual and reproductive health issues. PCC is there to break cultural barriers on such issues,” Longwe said.