Malawi Bans Child Marriage, Raises Minimum Age To 18

In what is hailed to be a “great day for Malawian girls,” the country has passed a law to ban child marriage and simultaneously raise the minimum age to 18.

In a country where virtually half the girls end up as child brides, this is welcome news indeed and women’s right campaigners are saying the new law will help to boost development in what is one of the world’s poorest countries.

However, the campaigners warn that the law alone will not end child marriage. They say concerted efforts to tackle poverty and to also end harmful traditional practices are necessary too.

Some of these traditional practices in Malawi involve early sexual initiations. In certain parts of the country as soon as a girl reaches puberty, she might receive a visit from an older man at night, known as a “hyena” who has sex with the girl to prepare her for marriage.

Malawi reportedly has one of the highest rates of child marriage worldwide, with half of the girls married before they turn 18 and one in eight girls is married by the age of 15.

According to Eye Witness News, Malawi’s traditions state the belief that a girl should marry as young as possible in order to maximize her fertility. At present, girls can marry at 16 years of age, or at 15 with their parents’ consent. However apparently many marry much younger than that.

Campaigners for women’s rights state that this early marriage deprives the girls of education and opportunities in life. It also increases the risk of death or serious injuries in childbirth should the girl have a baby before her body is ready. There is also a much greater risk of domestic and sexual violence with young girls.

Parliamentarian Jessie Kabwila helped to push for the new legislation which she says is “crucial.”

“This law is extremely crucial because child marriage is a big, big problem in our country.”

“The country will for the first time clearly articulate that we are saying ‘No’ to child marriage.”

Kabwila told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview just how important the ban on childhood marriage is.

“This law is very important because of the number of girls who drop out of school because they are going to get married, and because of the high numbers of girls who are dying when they are giving birth.”

“We cannot talk about development if we have child marriage. Women’s empowerment is a crucial player in development and women cannot be empowered if they are not educated.”

One of the reasons for child marriage in Malawi is that poverty pushes families to marry off their young girls in order to receive a dowry payment, or merely to have one less mouth to feed.

Brussels Mughogho of the development charity EveryChild says it is also vitally important to work with traditional leaders in order to end early sexual initiations which tend to lead to child marriage.

“There are so many driving factors behind child marriage”

“This is a very important step that we’ve taken, but child marriage will never end with legal instruments alone.”

According to Kabwila, the Malawian parliament voted unanimously on Thursday for the new Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill and the president is due to sign this into law within the next three weeks.

In other news affecting children in Africa, the Inquisitr reported on the story of an albino child who was abducted from his mother and found close by dead, with his limbs hacked off, in a witchcraft related ritual.

[Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 khym54]