Foundation for Community Support Services (FOCUS), a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), has blamed religious leaders in Karonga for failing to promote the campaign against early and forced marriages by officiating marriages of adolescent girls in the district.
Speaking during an interface meeting with over 70 church leaders from different denominations on Saturday, Executive Director of FOCUS, Kossam Munthali, said most churches in Karonga administer marriages of girls between 12 to 18 years against efforts by stakeholders to discourage the same.
Munthali said the practice by such churches appears to be an endorsement of the unwanted marriages; a development which he said fuels early and forced marriages in the district.
‘‘As we are fighting hard against early marriages in Karonga, we have observed with concern that most of church leaders in the district are administering marriages of young girls from ages of 12 to 18, a development which is worrisome.
‘‘As FOCUS, we believe that this is injustice because religious leaders have the responsibility of saving the children from any act of violence, and we are calling upon the leaders to stop the malpractice,’’ said Munthali.
Munthali’s call follows a recent report by Ngerenge Area Development Committee (ADC) which indicated that 36 girls from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kilupula dropped out of secondary school last year (2016) and were married off.
FOCUS is implementing a Mother-to-Child health project in Karonga to ensure that there is increased uptake of health care services by communities in the district.
In his remarks, Leader for African Methodist Episcopal Church in Karonga, Reverend Emmanuel Lunga, said while his church has no guidelines on the age for a woman to marry, it is important for girls to get married after they have matured.
Laws of Malawi discourage marriage of girls below 18 years of age.