‘No chidyamakanda law’: Malawi to allow girls at 18 to marry, not 16

Malawi will settle for the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) marriage age of 18 following consultations government through the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare embarked on to incorporate stakeholder’s views to determine the right minimum matrimonial age after parliament had settled for 16.

In 2009 the country’s parliament amended Clause 9 in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill revising the marriage age from 15 to 16 .

The dubbed Chidyamakanda bill’ was presented in parliament by the then Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Prof Peter Mutharika (now opposition DPP president) and was approved.

But rights campaigners vehemently condemned the passing of  the ‘Chidyamakanda’  (“Enjoy the Children”)  bill by parliament and pressed late president Bingu wa Mutharika not to assent it and it was thrown back to Parliament.

Shawa : upping the minimum marriageable age
Shawa : upping the minimum marriageable age

The public debate on the bill clearly showed that marriage age should be more than 16, preferably at 18, Youth Net and Counseling (Yoneco) Executive Director, MacBain Mkandawire.

Mkandawire said  the  ‘Chidyamakanda law’ could have fuelled maternal mortality in the country through bleeding during births and other reproductive health related conditions such us fistula.

Meanwhile, Principal Secretary in the ministry of Gender and Child Welfare, Dr Mary Shawa said since the country already ratified the Convention on the Child Rights, the country will go by its definition of marriage age.

“Since we ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that defines marriage age as 18 we would live to implement the same.

“Currently, we are lobbying with other stakeholders so that they embrace the same,” said Shawa at the end of a two day workshop for chiefs and children in Liwonde of Friday in readiness for the Day of an African Child with this year commemorated on Sunday June 16.

She said the bill which became a centre of discussion in 2009 only needs to change the age and thereafter may be adopted after passing through all the legal processes that are required.

Traditional Authority Chitera of Chiradzulu attested to Shawa’s observations noting that at the age of 16 most girls are not mostly ready for challenges that come with marriage.

Premature pregnancy carries significant health risks and pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years. Early marriage also jeopardizes a girls right to education. In addition, married girls have few social connections, restricted control over resources and little power in their new households and domestic violence is always common in such marriages, said Mkandawire.

The Family Planning Association of Malawi argues that young girls are at higher risk of death because of pregnancy-related complications and that the marriage of 16-year olds is akin to child abuse because, as a minor, they cannot give valid consent.

Additionally, the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a document that Malawi ratified, defines the child as every human below the age of 18 years.

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