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Updated: 21-March-2012
KEY TOPIC: CHILD/EARLY MARRIAGES

Introduction

Watch this touching short film (15min) entitled "Lifting our Voices: Ending Child Marriage in Malawi" produced by staff of PHI’s Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy & Leadership Initiative (AGALI), which features the issue of child marriage in Malawi and the impact that it has on adolescent girls’ health and wellbeing.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recognizes that the marriage of girls under 18 is a common practice in many developing countries, with an estimated 51 million child brides worldwide, the majority of them in West and East Africa and in South Asia. 100 million girls will be married before age 18 in the next ten years, with some as young as 10 or even younger.

Driving factors are many, and include poverty, poor education, concerns regarding girls' safety, as well as traditional practices. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), throughout the developing world, millions of girls are married while they are still children. The practice of child marriage spans diverse cultures, and each child bride has her own unique story. Yet those who have suffered its indignities share a common thread that transcends circumstances, cultures, countries and continents.

Child marriage is outlawed in many developing countries and a series of international agreements and conventions also forbid the practice. Despite nearly universal consensus that child marriage is harmful, the practice continues because of insufficient resources, lax enforcement or ingrained cultural traditions. However, communities are mobilizing to take a more active role in working with families to end child marriage.

Country Overview
dataAlthough the age at first marriage among women has been rising over the past two decades in the majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the upward trend in the age at marriage apparently has stalled in Malawi, according to a paper entitled "Health and Early Marriage in Rural Malawi". And, sadly, the ICRW ranks Malawi on position 17 out of the top 20 countries with highest rates of child marriage. The ranking follows the score of 46.9 percent of the country's girls under 18 years of age who are married. 

The negative consequences of child marriage are numerous yet its prevalence is staggering. Ending child marriage will protect girls and ensure a brighter future for them, their families and their communities. 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 girl's 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. The constitution of Malawi does not have any clear marriage age range. It does not talk about specific time on getting married. The youths in the country go into marriages at different age levels in accordance with their education and customs, and according to most customs puberty is usually a determining factor.

Meanwhile the Malawi government has in the recent years faced criticism from civil society and other key stakeholders as regards the legal age of marriage for girls/women. On August 11, 2009, the Malawi Parliament had passed into law a constitutional amendment bill upping the minimum marriageable age (with parental consent) from 15 to 16 which attracted heavy criticism.

downlod now
bullet1 ICRW's Child Marriage Toolkit (PDF)  
bullet1 NYCOM's Campaign Report (PDF)  
Nonetheless, it is pleasing to note that the Malawi Government in collaboration with civil society organisations and other players, has been implementing programmes to curtail harmful cultural practices that violate the rights of women. The Forum for African Women Educationists in Malawi is championing the government’s school readmission policy, which seeks to return all teen mothers to school. In October alone, the organisation rescued 10 girls from forced marriages in the northern district of Rumphi.

One of the partner organisations of the Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy & Leadership Initiative (AGALI) in Karonga, the Foundation for Community Support Services (FOCUS), is advocating to raise the legal age of marriage from 14 to 18 years in Malawi by working with traditional leaders and members of Parliament from the Karonga District of Malawi to pass the revised national Marriage Act. FOCUS is also working with adolescent girls to build their capacity to advocate for their own needs and to participate in advocacy activities aimed at passing the Marriage Act. Other AGALI partners working on similar project include: Chilimba Women and Orphans Care Group, Girls Empowerment Network (GENET), Development Broadcasting Unit (DBU) of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and Sub-Saharan Child and Community Development Trust (SACCODE)

On its part, the National Youth Council of Malawi (NYCOM) with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), launched a `STOP Early marriages campaign` as part of a series of activities that started with an aim of lobbying the state president not to assent to the bill that proposed marriage age be moved from 15 years to 16 years. Before the launch, NYCOM with support from UNFPA conducted district hearing campaigns that were aired live on Zodiac, developed a communiqué that was presented to all youths in Malawi during the 7th annual general assembly of NCYOM and also to the Minister of Youth Development and Sports (MoYDS), met parliamentary committees on health, legal affairs and also social services.

Through its child rights interventions, the Youth Net and Councelling (YONECO) has been withdrawing/rescuing young girls from various incidences of sexual exploitation including trafficking and early marriage. In its Voice Plus e-Newsletter of 15th March 2010, YONECO documented one of the many case studies of young girls being recued from the yoke of child/early marriage as follows (excerpt): "A 14 year old girl from Mittochi Village in STA Chanthunya was forced by her mother and grandparents to marry a 21 year old boy from the same village and quit school in May 2009."

On its part, under its School Outreach Programme, the Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC) disseminates child rights information through the school clubs and libraries and has integrated health information, HIV and AIDS, Sexual Reproductive Health as well as increased awareness on child/early marriages particularly on its social effects.

References

1. http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205401535_text.
2. The Daily Times, Tuesday, 29 November 2011
3. downloads/health_early_marriages_rural_malawi.pdf
4. http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/cross-cutting_programs/wid/dg/child_marriage.html

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