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Malawi, August 2015: Chief Kachindamoto annulled 330 teenage marriages

© UNICEF Malawi/2015/Chikondi
Chief Kachindamoto supporting the SG’ UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women- Malawi, National Gender Conference, November 2014.

August 2015 – Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world. It is ranked eighth out of the 20 countries that are considered to have the highest rates of child marriages (UNFPA 2012). According to the recent MDG End line Survey, one out of two girls are married before 18 years old.

In Malawi, the empowerment and advancement of the girl child is affected by the pandemic of violence, child marriages, early pregnancies, maternal mortality and low level of access and retention in education. This is coupled with a culture of silence, where women and girls are not empowered enough to speak out and where abuse, discrimination and inequality are socially acceptable.

Poverty, social and cultural factors in Malawi hamper girls’ access to education, making them more vulnerable to harmful cultural practices, child marriage and therefore higher risk of early pregnancies and maternal mortality.

The advocacy, lobby and capacity building interventions of UN Women and UNICEF and their engagement with traditional leaders has contributed to a landmark step undertaken by one of the female Chiefs in advancing the rights of girls and boys in Malawi.

In June 2015, Inkosi Kachindamoto annulled 330 child marriages in the district of Dedza (Central Region), sending the children back to school. In addition, Chief Kachindamoto suspended the Village Heads that consented to the marriage in order to give a good example and encourage other chiefs to not endorse to child marriages.

The annulled marriages were customary ones (opposed to civil marriage that can only be terminated under civil law). Chiefs, as the custodians of culture, have the power to annul and regulate such marriages. The Chief Kachindamoto managed to achieve this bold decision by engaging with mother groups, education peers, members of the Village Development Committees (VCDs), Faith Based Leaders and NGOs.

Kachindamoto encountered challenges in convincing the parents, husbands and the couples themselves – particularly those that had been married off their children due to poverty where the payment of a dowry was involved. Despite these difficulties, the Chief credits the initial campaigns, which were conducted door to door, as the best platform for the community, parents and husbands to agree to the annulment of the marriages.

This milestone decision has been the result of several lobby and advocacy work that the UN has conducted for the past years in eradicating child marriages. Among those, the recent visit of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, who engaged in consultations with traditional leaders to advocate for the elimination of violence against women and children and combat child marriage. Among the achievements of the joint effort to end child marriage, another critical milestone is the passing of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, that raises the age of marriage to 18 years old.

As a way forward, UN Women and UNICEF intend to continue engaging with traditional leaders to share the best practice of Chief Kachindamoto and replicate it on a larger scale. Coupled to that, the UN will continue its advocacy and lobby work to ensure the implementation, dissemination and enforcement of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.



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