Ending child marriage will help break the generational cycle of poverty by enabling girls and women to partake more in society, as well as empowering them to be able to care and nourish their children.
Malawi once had one of the highest rates of child marriages globally, according to data from UNICEF.
Child marriage is fuelled mainly by the effects of poverty and lack of opportunities from empowerment through education and for financial reasons. However, there are other factors, such as traditions and customs.
Child marriage is a severe violation of children’s rights, placing them in life-threatening situations caused by early pregnancies and domestic violence. Furthermore, girls are often married off to considerably older men.
Young girls should be allowed to be girls and grow up to have a healthier life and smaller families.
Globally millions of women are married before their 18th birthday.
In Malawi, Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto of the Dedza District in Central Malawi has been working towards preventing and breaking marriages of girls under the age of 18 to marrying older men.
She has an informal authority of about 900,000 people. There she is referred to as “The Terminator” for her commitment to and success at ending child marriages.
Chief Kachindamoto lived in a different town and had multiple older siblings. She was forced into married and gender-based violence at the age of 14.
Chief Kachindamoto spent about twenty-seven years as a secretary at a college. Then she returned to her village to take up her duties as chief and was determined to take a stand against the tradition of child marriages.
She observed many of her female friends languishing in poverty as a result of child marriages.
When this warm kind-hearted woman became senior chief, she immediately brought an end to the practice of child marriage among her community.
Kachindamoto used her role to nullify more than 1,500 child marriages since 2017, sending the girls back to school who were married off before being able to complete their education back to school in the Dedza district.
In February 2017, the country took a significant step to end child marriage by adopting a constitutional amendment that increases the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years for both genders, males and females.
The revision aligns the Constitution with the 2015 Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act passed by the Parliament.
UN Women performed a crucial role in pressing for an end to the discriminatory practices, working with the government, and civil society representatives and traditional leaders, like Kachindamoto.
Kachindamoto made several changes as well as firing four chiefs in areas where marriages were still occurring. She also got 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement on ending child marriage and for which she received death threats.
Changing attitudes and behaviors takes time, but because of a brave and fearless leadership like this, things changed.
Although the majority of marriageable age is usually 18, it can vary across countries. Even where the marriable age is set at 18, cultural traditions may override the legislation in exceptional circumstances such as teenage pregnancy or parental consent.
Child marriage is still fairly widespread in countries like Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia, Latin America, and Oceania.
Featured image credit: wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_Kachindamoto