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Gaps in current laws hinder efforts to end child marriages

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By Macdonald Thom

There are growing calls for different strategies to be used in the quest to end child marriages in Malawi.

Apart from law enforcement, which is at the centre of the fight, prevention and education are some of the measures that are being touted as playing a crucial role in the fight against child marriages.

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The plea for multiple strategies was made at a panel discussion held recently in Lilongwe under the theme ‘‘Ending Child Marriages in Malawi: A National Call to Action”.

Panalists included Deputy Minister of Education Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima, chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Social and Community Affairs Savel Kafwafwa, and Regional Community Policing Coordinator Alexander Ngwala.

Another panelist was Edna Tanazio from Chibwana Village Traditional Authority Mlonyeni in Mchinji, whose girl child was married in 2017.

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“I encouraged her to continue with education. From the little resources I have, I managed to send her back to school. She has now written Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination,” Tanazio said. “My worry now is on how I will support her secondary education. I am a widow. It is hard for me.”

Kafwafwa said if girls rescued from marriages are to be able to pick up their teenage lives again and not return to marriage, many different agencies and organizations must offer support.

“We want any law, through the relevant ministries, to have some supporting budget. There are many organizations fighting child marriages but none is paying attention to what happens after the marriages have ended. What kind of support is there after we have ended the marriages? That is the issue which we should be talking about,” he said.

Wirima, the Deputy Minister of Education, expressed disappointment over the increased cases of child marriages despite having a number of laws to fight it.

She, however, said that to end the stigma that girls returning to school face, there is need to intensify sensitization.

“This has to start with the children going back to school. Once they are equipped with information they need, it will help them stay in school. Then, the teachers and other learners should also be sensitized on the need to support these girls,” Wirima said.

Ngwala said that the key to ending child marriage is prevention.

“If we prevent, we will not have children getting into marriages. It is the role of parents, traditional leaders, faith community and all other people in the community to end child marriages,” he said.

He, however, said where cases are found, it is important to report to the law enforcers.

Currently some laws being used in the fight against child marriage are Childcare, Protection and Justice Act and The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.  Section 23 of the Constitution and some provisions of the Penal Code are also being used.

However, Ngwala noted that there are gaps in the current laws being used.

“We are not protecting well children from the age of 16 to 18. According to Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, any person under the age of 18 should not get into marriage. There is no section that is punishing the one that will marry a girl between 17 and 18,” he said.

Government has drafted Miscellaneous Amendments Bill whose goal is to address some of the gaps in laws that fight against child marriages.

Ngwala expressed optimism that Kafwafwa and all Members of Parliament will support the amendments.

In 2020, according to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, at least 20,000 child marriages were recorded, out of which only 9,000 were annulled.

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