Malawi has outlawed child marriage after the much awaited Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill which has streamlined legislation on marriage and divorce, and also introduced a new marriage age of 18, was tabled and has been passed by MPs in the Parliament.
Malawi had one of the lowest legal ages of marriage in Africa. The constitution allowed children to marry at the age of 15 with their parents consent.
International child rights standards recommend 18 as the minimum age for marriage.
A Special Law Commission on the review of laws on marriage and divorce was instituted in 2001 and the Bill drafted years later but the cabinet rejected it over the issue of prohibition of polygamy.
Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati tabled the bill in parliament and expressed delight that MP supported to pass the bill especially on the “marriage age.”
Kaliati said they have increased the legal age of marriage to 18 for girls to be marrie as part of efforts to end the phenomenon of child brides, which has hindered female education in a country where half the population is illiterate.
“The minimum age [for marriage] is now 18 years, when a girl is old enough to make her own choices,” said Kaliati.
Minister Kaliati says parents and guardians who neglect children will be punished by the law.
“We have set ten years imprisonment as the minimum term for one to serve for being involved in child marriage in one way or the other. This will stop all perpetrators of child marriages.”
A coalition of local and international NGOs is currently engaging a number of girls who had dropped out of school – due to pregnancy or prostitution – with a view to getting them to go back to class.
“A number of girls have returned to school,” said Mac Bain Mkandawire, chairman of the “End Child Marriage Campaign Task-force.”
“But there are many out there still tied to the yoke of early marriage,” he noted. “They want to leave, but they can’t. They need help.”
He believes an amendment of the country’s marriage law would help.
“The amendment will enable us to clearly have the backing of the law,” Mkandawire asserted.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :