Shrugging off child marriage tick in Malawi


By Josephine Chinele, Contributor:

KHATI—Countries should take this seriously

One morning, in September last year, Senior Chief Kachindamoto of Dedza District was shocked to see a group of girls approach her compound.

“We have come with these girls to you because you discouraged them from getting married. You said they should concentrate on school. Here they are, with certificates but unemployed,” one of the parents accompanying the girls said.


Observing that the parents were very emotional, the chief did not send the girls back; instead, she took care of them for some days.

“I was buying time to consult their chiefs. I was shocked to learn that the parents brought them to me without first consulting their group village heads [GVHs],” she recalls.

Senior Chief Kachindamoto is well known for her enthusiastic hatred for child marriages since 2004, encouraging girls to first attain education.


She realised that, in most of her areas, there were a lot of girls who had dropped out of school mostly after getting married. This prompted the local ruler to come up with by-laws in 2006 that stipulate that any of her junior chiefs that sanction marriage between chldren would be stripped of the position.

Some chiefs ignored the by-laws and still allowed young children to be getting married. Twenty four of them consequently lost their positions in 2007.

Since then, incidences of child marriage have significantly decreased in the area under her jurisdiction. So far, Kachindamoto has terminated 2,549 child marriages.

“Some parents would want to reduce their household burden by ‘disposing off’ their children through marriage. They could lie about their age. So I have also been working with religious leaders who have been tracing children’s baptism years,” she says.

Cases of child marriage are history in her area and she is now seeing the fruits of her fight against the problem as many girls are going far with their education.

“The only thing that is bothering me is that the unemployment rate is very high; most of the girls that have completed certain levels of education are just idle and their parents are blaming me for denying them an opportunity to have an in-law to assist them financially.

“These are the girls who were dumped at my headquarters in September last year for me to find employment for them since I insisted that they should be educated,” she laments.

The chief urges the government and well-wishers to provide technical skills to such girls to encourage other parents who are want to marry off their daughters.

Nevertheless, despite this challenge, Senior Chief Kachindamoto’s area remains a model for fighting against child marriage.

“People from Malawi and other countries have visited my area to learn how I manage to discipline my junior chiefs and work with religious leaders and other stakeholders in the fight against child marriage,” she explains.

The chief has received many awards in honour of her efforts. She has also had visitors from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region and other countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. She has also travelled extensively on invitation to teach others on this matter.

Paramount Chief Kyungu of Karonga District says he is part of a recently established Continental Traditional, Cultural Leaders Association aimed at eliminating child marriage in his area, Malawi and the whole of Africa.

“Through this association, we agreed that there is need to have combined efforts by parents, traditional leaders, civil society organisations and the government in fighting child marriage. What is important is not only to terminate child marriages but to enable people to understand their [child marriages’]ills through civic education,” Kyungu says.

The chief is also party to other international associations formed to fight child marriage.

“We need to take out that thing that entices children into early marriages. Others do it for money, others due to lack of guidance,” he says.

Kyungu is, however, quick to highlight that much as he is doing his best to make his subjects understand the evils of child marriage, he is let down by the justice system, where perpetrators are given soft punishments.

“Perpetrators should be given stiffer punishments or even life imprisonment to deter would-be offenders because they are destroying our girls’ future,” he says.

Paramount Chief Lundu of Chikwawa shares Kyungu’s frustrations.

“I have tried everything possible to ensure that no underage girl gets married under my jurisdiction. I even developed by-laws that punish perpetrators and parents but, sadly, corruption seems to be rampamt among authorities entrusted with the duty to enforce the laws,” he laments.

Lundu also reveals that parents seem to be in the forefront to marrying off girls.

“They benefit from these unions. Marrying a girl is like reducing the burden of poverty. This is frustrating our efforts,” he says.

In 2016, the Sadc Parliamentary Forum adopted a model law in eradicating child marriages but most countries have not enacted it.

Panos Institute of Southern Africa’s Public Health Programme Manager, Mamoletsane Khati, urges States, as signatories to regional instruments, to take these issues seriously by domesticating the instruments to ensure that protection of girls against child marriages is guaranteed.

“We believe, by adopting and implementing the Sadc model law, we can deal with the customary laws in different countries including Malawi,” she says.

In 2015, Plan International mobilised Malawi and other Sadc traditional leaders to attend an international conference in Lusaka, Zambia, on child marriage where they signed a pact to end child marriages in their respective areas.

Malawi was represented by traditional leaders Lundu, Kachindamoto, Kyungu and Chowe.

Plan Malawi’s Project Manager, Jane Mweziwina, states that, from that time, the traditional leaders have engaged in efforts to end child marriages.

“They have several groups of people they are working with to support their cause. These include mother groups, male champions, child protection committees and community policing forums,” Mweziwina says.

She highlights that Plan Malawi is using an integrated approach to address this issue, by looking at the drivers of child marriage in Malawi in general, as well as in specific areas that the organisation is working in.

Plan Malawi is using interventions such as Girl empowerment, Community engagement and legal policy environment to fight child marriage.

“The issue of child marriage requires a joint and holistic approach. Various players have key roles in this fight. Girls themselves are the key agents of change. If we empower them to have a vision and strive to achieve it, that is the end of this problem,” Mweziwina states.

She also believes that parents have a big role to play, saying it is noticeable that, in communities, most parents are pushing their roles and responsibilities of parenting to the boys and girls.

“The community must also understand what the laws of the country say about the rights and responsibilities of people at different levels. Young people must know and demand their rights but should also know and understand their responsibilities,” she says.

The general outlook is that incidences of child marriage are decreasing.

A 2017 Unicef report says 42 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 while nine percent marry before their fifteenth birthday.

This is an improvement from the previous years, where 50 percent of Malawian girls of the same age were being married off.

But perhaps the new challenge is the struggle for girls who have attained certain levels of education to find employment.

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