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Malawi, 20 April 2017: UN and NGOs welcome Constitutional amendments as a major step towards ending child marriage

LILONGWE, Malawi, 20 April 2017 – The United Nations in Malawi and non-government organizations under the NGO Coalition on Child Rights (NGO CCR) have welcomed the assent of President of Malawi Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to the Constitutional amendments raising the legal age of a child from 16 to 18 years and the age of marriage to 18 years. The amendments set a constitutional framework for the protection of all children from early marriage and harmonise legal instruments prohibiting child marriage.

“As the United Nations, we hope that the Constitutional amendments will build a collective approach of zero tolerance towards child marriage, and the harm it causes, especially to adolescent girls,” said UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo. “There should now be a sustained focus on implementation and enforcement of the new rules.”

The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (2015-16), revealed that 46.7 per cent of girls and women get married before the age of 18. Child marriages have contributed to an increase in maternal and neonatal mortality in Malawi, lack of education, gender based violence and failure to access family planning. Adolescent mothers usually give birth to premature or low birth weight babies. Malawi has the highest premature birth rate in the world, with 18 per cent of all babies being born too early and 13 per cent with low birth weight.

The amendment also has other implications for vulnerable children. For example, the Child Care Protection and Justice Act creates a comprehensive framework for the protection of children, which will now cover children between 16 and 18 years. Before the amendment, trafficking a person between 16 and 18 years, would not be deemed as child trafficking. Now it will.

The NGO Coalition on Child Rights said all laws governing the protection and welfare of children should now be reviewed to reflect the spirit of the Constitutional amendments.

“We call upon the Government to produce a comprehensive child protection policy to guide the implementation of the Child Care Protection and Justice Act of 2010 and other laws,” Chairperson of NGO CCR Desmond Mhango said. “Ideally this review should also domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children.”

Tina Yu, Country Director for Save the Children, a member of NGO CCR added, “We look at this constitutional amendment as a way to keep girls in school and we are hopeful that this development will support Malawi’s efforts towards ending child marriages, which unfortunately are still rampant in the country. We pledge our continued resolve to mobilize resources and create awareness among various communities to back up the enforcement of the newly amended law.”

Efforts by the UN and various NGOs to end child marriage have also led to the establishment of a case management system which allows the Government and others to track child marriages, which are then annulled by traditional leaders or through the courts. “Traditional leaders and religious groups can play a key role in stopping child marriages and their efforts should be supported, especially by law enforcement agencies,” Desmond Mhango said. “At the same time, they should be held accountable if child marriage continues.”

The UN and NGOs believe that preventing child marriage requires a rights-based approach to changing social and cultural norms, empowering women and girls, building the capacity of all professionals in contact with victims and perpetrators, and raising awareness of the causes and consequences of child marriage. There is also a need to strengthen data collection and monitoring, law enforcement, protective measures and social services.

“The journey embarked on by the Government, Parliament, civil society and other partners last year show that by working together, we can bring positive change for all children in Malawi, including the most vulnerable girls,” Mia Seppo said. “These Constitutional amendments give us the legal basis to end child marriage. With concerted action by Government, religious groups, traditional leaders, civil society, guardians and parents, ending child marriage in Malawi is now possible.”

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About the United Nations in Malawi
In Malawi, the United Nations contributes to the Government of Malawi’s development objectives by supporting investment in Malawi’s people, and by strengthening the management and accountability systems that are needed to ensure that growth benefits every citizen, including women, children, the very poor and the most vulnerable. To make a more effective contribution to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN in Malawi pursues the ‘Delivering as One’ approach. http://www.mw.one.un.org

About the NGO Coalition on Child Rights
The NGO CCR is a coalition of nine networks working towards the promotion of children’s rights. The networks under NGO CCR are NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO GCN), Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), Civil Society Education Network (CSEC), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Water and Sanitation Network (WESN), Network of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (NOVOC), Malawi Human Rights Youth Network (MHRYN), Youth Consultative Forum (YCF), Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN).

For more information, please contact:
Phillip Pemba, UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, phillip.pemba@one.un.org or +265 (0)995 271 671
Henry Machemba, NGO CCR, hjmachemba@gmail.com or +265 (0)888 982 524

 

 
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