By Jessica Piec
Different stakeholders from Malawi have reached a consensus to bring an end to the vile of Child Marriage and harmful cultural practices which derail a girls' chance at attaining an education and negatively impacts her health and well-being.
The forceful harmony was made recently at a two-day Southern Region Symposium in the lake district of Mangochi and aimed at Ending Child Marriages in Malawi.
The regional symposium was organised by Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) in partnership with Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) with financial support from Hivos. It drew over 60 delegates comprised of religious leaders, senior Chiefs, Traditional Authorities, village heads, police officers, government ministry officials, social welfare officers, civil society organizations, members of the media as well as individuals from the private sector.
The aim was to provide a regional platform where stakeholders from various sectors could share their experiences and come up with strategies to bring an end to child marriages at both regional and district levels in Malawi.
Traditional leaders also called upon the government to push through a bill to change the marriage age from 15 to 21 in an effort to save girls from being forced into early marriages and to encourage their educational empowerment and ability to make informed decisions in their lives.
Emphasized was the stakeholders’ collective responsibility to abolish Child Marriage, while traditional leaders also called upon the government to speed up the review of the marriage age from 15 to 21 in an effort to save girls from being forced into early marriages and to encourage the completion of their education.
Child Marriage situation in Malawi
Currently, Child Marriage is a primary violation of girls’ human rights, which is increasingly becoming an alarm for Malawi because it is destroying many adolescent girls.
Statistics indicate that Malawi is one of the Southern Africa countries which are grappling with effects of early marriage which include increase in maternal deaths and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). It is estimated that 50% of girls marry before the age of 18; 9% are married by the time they reach the age of 15 and 20% of girls who are supposed to be in school, are not.
Marriages in Malawi occur in forms of tradition, legal or religious but tradition unions are not recognized by the state. Often, traditional marriages ignore the law since some of them are arranged or forced ones that involve under aged girls.
Child Marriages and childbearing are deeply embedded in harmful cultural practices. And archaic marriage laws are also facilitating them with the disregard of young woman’s life and future.
Currently, Section 22 (7) of the Republic of Malawi Constitution says that for people between the age of 15 and 18 years, a marriage shall only be entered into with the consent of their parents or guardians.
As a result, this compels many communities that are misguided by cultural norms, to marry off their girls.
It is against this atrocious background that stakeholders have committed themselves to push for policies that are aimed at protecting girls fully.