Malawi Fully Outlaws Child Marriage

by ACT

  • Posted on February 24, 2017

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On Tuesday Malawi made a historic amendment to its constitution to fully outlaw child marriage.

As of 2015, Malawi had the ninth highest rate of child marriage in the world. Though the practice was technically already prohibited under Malawian law, having been banned in 2015 with the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Law, which increased the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18, the Constitution contained a legal loophole that allowed children between 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent. Malawian Parliamentarians followed the example of Tanzania and the Gambia, set in summer last year, and voted 131 to 2 in favour of removing this loophole.

Despite being prohibited by international law, every two seconds a girl under the age of 18 is forced into marriage.

Unarguably child marriage is a violation of children’s human rights, but every year it robs millions of girls around the world of their childhood. Early marriage denies girls their right to make vital decisions about their sexual health and wellbeing. Marriage often forces them out of education and into a life of cripplingly poor prospects, with increased risk of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and early death. Early pregnancy is one of the most dangerous consequences of child marriage.

Early marriage and involuntary marriage is common in West and Central Africa, where 41% of girls are forced to accept their fate as child brides. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 29% of girls experience early marriage, and in South Asia 46% of girls are forced involuntarily into premature nuptials.

Though there are many reasons that this practice continues, not a single one serves as a justification.

Marrying a daughter off early can be a strategic option, ensuring a family’s economic survival. Often a dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the groom’s family to cover the costs of caring for her; it is seen as a necessity in ensuring her future care. For every year a family waits to marry their daughter, they can expect to see dowry rise in order to offset the in-laws archaic worries – Is the bride still a virgin? Why is she not already married? Will she be less compliant in her new home? Parents who don’t marry their daughter off when they can afford it risk never being able to at all. In some cases, the groom is required to pay the child’s parents in return for her hand in marriage; this amount is likely to decrease as girls age and their desirability decreases.

There are widely held perceptions that girls are an economic burden to their families. This burden can be alleviated through a family opting to remove daughters from costly schooling and marrying them off in order to save money.

Poverty is oft articulated as the reason for child marriage. If this is true, why are girls married off and not boys?

Damaging social norms entrenched in communities where child marriage is practiced are fundamental to the tradition, with the subordination of females and the control of their sexual and reproductive lives at the centre of this. Female sexuality so often shapes family honour in the eyes of traditionalist parents and communities, and commodifying a girl’s sexuality is crucial to the upholding of this honour.

The combatting on these deeply rooted views is at the front and centre of ending child marriage.

Accessible education gives girls choices and opportunities in life, empowering them to become independent of their family and play an active role in their communities to break the cycle of child marriage. Educating families on sexual and reproductive health is vital as it illustrates the physical dangers of early marriage. Including men in women’s empowerment projects will help to ensure their respect for women’s rights,leveling the playing field and subverting harmful cultural norms.

The African Child Trust has been working tirelessly to advocate the importance of education for girls with projects in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia hoping to break the cycle of child marriage and enable girls to thrive fully from the benefits of schooling. Read about these projects here. In Malawi specifically, we have launched the Ulemu Project in order to empower young girls to take control of their reproductive health and benefit fully from education.

See how you can make a difference to the lives of young girls in Africa here.

If we don’t do something about this now, it is predicted that 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020.

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