Hundreds of Malawians march over 100km to protect girl child

As pressure continues mounting on Malawi Government to revisit the laws that allow young girls to get married at the age of 16, hundreds of people have completed their week-long march aimed at raising awareness against the increasing cases of teen marriages and gender based violence.

The marchers, who included chiefs, activists, businesspersons, among others, walked a distance of more than 100 kms from Malawi’s southern tip district of Nsanje to commercial capital, Blantyre.

They started their march last week Monday and have been making various stop-over along the way spreading messages discouraging early marriages for girls as well as gender based violence.

The march was organised under the Nsanje-based Christian Community Interfaith Organisation (CCIO), a group of prominent people in the district.

Adolescent girl leaders advocating for the end of child marriage in Malawi. Photograph: GENET Malawi

Adolescent girl leaders advocating for the end of child marriage in Malawi. Photograph: GENET Malawi

And speaking on arrival in Blantyre, the people said they decided to organise the protest to force government authorities and concerned organisations to address the problems which have deep roots not only in Nsanje but in many parts of the country.

They said they were particularly concerned with parents who force their children to get married while still young at the expense of school.

“This has been a growing tendency in our district and it is greatly contributing to low school participation of girls.

“We have tried to advocate for change but the resistance is just too much hence this march to spread message across the country,” explained one of the marchers, Traditional Authority Malemia.

The chief said the culture of marrying off young girls was deep rooted resulting in the district lagging behind in as far as girls’ education is concerned.

He said: “For a long time we, as chiefs, have been in the forefront discouraging such archaic cultures because as custodians of the people we are concerned with the plight of our girl child.

“This culture [of forcing girls to marry] has just embedded in our society and we are saying time has now come that we can no longer follow cultures that retard national development.”

The traditional leader was however quick to indicate that the culture could not easily be uprooted without concerted efforts.

“The main challenge is that there are some old folks who still believe that the culture should be maintained,” he noted.

Asked why they decided to walk from Nsanje to Blantyre instead of just raising awareness to the Nsanje people, TA Malemia stated the decision was made after looking the issues as of national concern other than Nsanje problem.

“We have walked all this long because we feel these two issues do not specifically apply to Nsanje alone. Teen marriages as well as gender based violence are all over, so we thought by walking to Blantyre we will spread the messages to many people,” he explained.

Currently, the country’s law allows young girls to get married at 16 or at the age of 15 with parental consent, a development many local organisations have described as “unfriendly to girls” as it contributes towards the increase in school drop-out rate of girls especially in rural areas.

In Malawi, approximately 17 percent of girls drop out of school as a result of forced marriages, and schools are not safe for girls due to sexual abuse by male teachers and men at large.

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