Despite recent legal victories, child marriage remains a key challenge in the country having the 11th highest rate in the world and the 9th highest rate in Africa.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Dr. Jean Kalirani disclosed this in Lilongwe during the Gender Policy Dialogue aimed at catalyzing and strengthening the ongoing efforts to end child marriages in Malawi.
She said the most recent Malawi Demographic and Health Survey of 2016 found out that about 47 percent of women are married before the age of 18 years.
“This situation is socially and economically unacceptable and should be addressed at all levels,” said Kalirani.
She therefore thanked President Professor Peter Mutharika, as one of the nine global He4She Champions for investing in the implementation of Goal Number 5 of the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union Agenda 2063 which recognises women empowerment as key to development.
“As a champion for the Demographic Dividend at the AU level, the president has also embarked on ending child marriages and re-admitting girls into schools. This dialogue has also come after the UN General Assembly where the president was recognized by UN Women for putting his Government efforts in this cause,” she explained.
According to Kalilani, government is also implementing a number of interventions such as child related laws that include Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, Gender Equality Act, Deceased Estates Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act and Prevention of Domestic Violence Act; harmonized in the Marriage age and the age of the child in the Constitution of the Republic and the 2015 (Marriage Act) that raised the marriage age to 18 years.
Kalilani added that capacity building of traditional leaders and mother groups who are instrumental in ending child marriages through the use of community by-laws; Gender Based Violence National Action Plan (GBV NAP), and the mass media campaign against child marriages locally known as “Lekeni” are some of the interventions.
She further said that Government alone could not eradicate child marriages but everyone has critical roles to play in ending child marriage in the country by empowering the girls in education to ensure that they finish secondary school and tertiary education.
An official from African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), Dr Nyovani Madise said many families in Malawi see child marriage as a way to improve their financial status through the payment of a bride price or other support from the groom or to reduce the financial burden of raising a girl child.
“Girls may also view marriage as a way to improve their financial and social status. Regional and cultural differences exist with regard to child marriage,” said Madise.
She gave an example of Chitipa district where in some parts it is traditionally common practice for parents to give their daughters in marriage to pay a debt in a practice called ‘kupimbila’.