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Evil called child marriage

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

The youth are an integral part of development. Essentially, the future of every nation hinges on the youth as these are the future leaders. It is important to invest in the youth through education and other capacity building initiatives to ensure that the country’s future is secure and potent. However, there is a hindrance to this investment especially when it comes to the education and development of girls: early marriage. Much is it mainly affects the girl-child, early marriage generally hinders growth of both sexes; a boy getting married at 18 years of age before he has made a man out of himself will also stifle his potential.

Malawi has the second highest rating of child marriages in the Southern African Development Community region, the ninth highest in Africa and the 11th highest in the world. 2017 Unicef statistics indicated that 42 percent of girls were married by the age of 18 years in the country while nine percent of girls were in child marriages by the age of 15years. Typically, the age at first birth is about one year after marriage. Consequently, due to child marriage, Malawi’s teenage pregnancy rate is very high; 29 percent of girls aged 15-19 have begun childbearing leading to a host of other complications.

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The statistics remain high despite that Malawi had made tremendous progress in recent years toward the goal of ending child marriage. In 2015, Malawi adopted the Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act, which set 18 as the legal minimum age for marriage and in February 2017, a legal loophole allowing children between the ages of 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent was closed with an amendment to the Constitution. These steps made a big difference in the fight against child marriage but, evidently, the issue remains a key development challenge in Malawi.

The right to free and full consent to marriage is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that consent cannot be free if one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner. This essentially means marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Most girls go into early marriages not out of full will but through coercion stemming from desperation of parents or enforcement of cultural expectations that do not take into account the rights and the needs of the girl-child.

Globally, many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting into early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence.

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As alluded to earlier, relatively high maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates in the country are also highly linked to child marriages as most of the girls give birth before their bodies are mature enough to handle the demands of pregnancy and child birth. In a country with the larger fraction of the population living in poverty, these factors are compounded by limited or no access to healthcare; leading to complications during pregnancy or at child birth that are not mitigated in time.

From whatever angle we dissect this issue from the physical aspect, spiritual, financial, social and psychological aspects; child marriage has the cons outweighing the pros in multitudes. Maybe the question should be; are there any upsides to child marriage to begin with? To the girl children themselves? I scratched my head for minute there and could not think of any.

We have to take an active and aggressive role in preserving the integrity and sanctity of growth for the future of the country. We can turn this country around and fight poverty when the growth of the youth is stifled before they have a chance to realise their full potential. The education system in the country is a key element in fighting this evil. Teachers are found everywhere in Malawi and they should be sensitized, trained and supported with resources to play leading advocate roles against child marriages in the communities they operate in.

I rest my case

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