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The child marriage terminator of Malawi

July 13th, 2016
in:Humans
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Malawi
tags:child marriage, Human Development Index, Malawi, Unicef Child Marriage Information Sheet

One in every two girls in Malawi is married off before they get to 18 years, making the Southern African country eighth out of the 20 countries with the highest child marriage rates globally. One traditional female leader is working to change this, one resolve at a time.

Malawi is categorized among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 160th out of 182 nations on the Human Development Index with 50.7 per cent of the population living below the poverty line according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Raising children is therefore a tough call. While most of them are pulled out of school to work in farms, young girls are married off at a tender age to ease the financial burden on their parents.

It has become customary with chiefs and local administrative officials giving a nod to the practice. Young girls, as young as seven years, are forced into camps meant to ‘cleanse’ them and prepare them to serve their would-be husbands better. This entails performing titillating dances and engaging in sex. In some instances for the girls to graduate, they are required to have sex with the teacher. To those who leave the camp while still virgins, their parents organize for a male member of the community to have sex with them to test what they have learned.

It is this reality that Theresa Inkosi Kachindamoto walked into. A former secretary at a city college in Malawi for close to three decades, Kachindamo, the youngest of her twelve siblings, was picked by elders to head the Dedza district located near Lake Malawi because they regarded her as a ‘people person.’ As a senior chief she is the head of 900,000 inhabitants. She walked into scenes of children as young as twelve walking with babies strapped to their backs.

Her spirited efforts would not be without hiccups. In a tradition that had been deeply entrenched, she faced serious opposition including death threats. A mother of five boys, she would get scolded by women who told her she had no right to teach them how to raise their girls. Kachindamo remained unfettered. During her tenure she has managed to terminate over 850 marriages with 300 of those having been in June last year. She has earned admiration from the liberal locals who have christened her the Marriage Terminator.

And with the deep rooted tradition appearing a hard nut for her cause, she decided to instead change the law. She forced the 50 sub chiefs under her to sign an arrangement that ended early marriages under customary law while abolishing previous unions.

But Kachindamo would later learn that child marriages were still going on in certain areas. She immediately fired the chiefs in the said areas and only reinstated them once she proved that the earlier marriages had been annulled.

Aware that she needed the goodwill of everyone in the society, she enlisted the support of the church leaders, charities and communities members to pass a law that outlawed early marriages through a civil law.

Kachindamo didn’t stop there. She got a secret network of parents who would monitor whether any parents were still advocating for child marriages.

She has also been aggressive in getting the young ones to go to school by paying for them and in situations where she can’t, she seeks the support from donors.

To encourage the girls to embrace and love education, she gets girls who have advanced academically and are working to speak to the school girls and mentor them. Malawian female members of parliament have also visited the district to mentor the girls. The girls suddenly developed interest in learning English, the language spoken in parliament.

“I talk to the parents. I tell them: If you educate your girls you will have everything in the future,” Kachindamo was quoted by U.N Women as saying.

Her missionary zeal and unmatched gusto in enforcing the law on child marriages has also seen her petition the parliament of Malawi to change the minimum marriage age from 18 to 21. This, she says, will tame endemic poverty in Malawi which has been fanned by young families who cannot fend for themselves.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Malawi is categorized among the poorest countries in the world, raising children is therefore a tough call.
Young girls, as young as seven years, are forced into camps meant to ‘cleanse’ them and prepare them to serve their would-be husbands better. This entails performing titillating dances and engaging in sex.
“I talk to the parents. I tell them: If you educate your girls you will have everything in the future,” Kachindamo was quoted by U.N Women as saying.

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