World

Malawi Chief Annuls 850 Child Marriages

| by Diana Kruzman
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of the Dedza District of Central MalawiChief Theresa Kachindamoto of the Dedza District of Central Malawi

Malawi, a small, landlocked country in eastern Africa bordering Tanzania and Mozambique, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

One Malawi chief is working to change that by rendering marriages before the age of 18 invalid, and sending girls back to school to finish their education.

During the past three years, chief Theresa Kachindamoto of the Dedza District of Central Malawi has annulled more than 850 child marriages and has made education a priority for the people she leads, according to Al Jazeera.

The former secretary of a city college in Zomba never intended to be a chief, but when she was called back 13 years ago because she was "good with people," she took up the post dutifully.

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However, Kachindamoto soon found herself shocked at the number of underage girls who were already married and bearing children, many of whom were only 12-years-old. She said she knew early marriage and childbirth not only prevented girls from moving forward with their education, but also had severe health impacts down the road.

In Malawi, marriage before the age of 18 is illegal due to a law passed in 2015, but girls can still marry at an earlier age with parental consent. According to Girls Not Brides, a nonprofit organization working to end child marriage, one in two girls are married before they turn 18 in Malawi.

Kachindamoto decided she would make it her goal to put a stop to the practice as much as she could.

"I told them: 'Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,'" Kachindamoto told Al Jazeera.

She got her 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to help her with this goal, and fired chiefs who didn’t stop the practice from happening even after she made her decree. Kachindamoto worked with the community to help families, many of whom married off their female children to escape poverty, understand that an educated girl would be of more value than a married one.

"If they are educated, they can be and have whatever they want," Kachindamoto told Al Jazeera.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Girls Not Brides / Photo credit: Hannah McNeish/Al Jazeera

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