Since 2015 marrying under age 18 has been illegal in Malawi, however these marriages are still happening due to a “customary law” that allows children to be married with parental consent and overseen by traditional leaders. A 2012 United Nations survey found that more than half of Malawi’s girls were married before the age of 18. It ranked Malawi 8th out of 20 countries thought to have the highest child-marriage rates in the world.
One senior chief, Theresa Kachindamoto, is changing this law and changing lives.
From the Dedza District in Central Malawi, Theresa Kachindamoto was saddened by seeing these marriages happening around her and girls as young as 12 having babies of their own. She decided to take a stand and made 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,’” Kachindamoto told the Al Jazeera news outlet.
Theresa Kachindamoto didn’t stop there either. She also banned camps for “kusasa fumbi”. kusasa fumbi means cleansing, and these camps are to teach young girls how to become sexually advanced and please their husband.
Theresa Kachindamoto, has said girls as young as seven are sometimes sent to these places and added “I said to the chiefs that this must stop, or I will dismiss them.”
Back to School
Theresa has annulled more than 850 child marriages and has even sent hundreds of young women back to school to continue their education. Some families didn’t accept the changes and the chief has even had death threats. Theresa simply shrugged them off and reiterated the law.
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” she says.
To ensure children are not being pulled out of school, Theresa operates a secret network of parents to keep an eye on others. If parents can’t afford to pay school fees, she’ll pay them herself or find someone else who can.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” Chief Kachindamoto told U.N. Women. “They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”