In Malawi, only 45 per cent of girls stay in school past the 8th grade. With one in every two girls married before the age of 18, child marriage and pregnancy remain the main causes for this high dropout rate.
Child marriage has devastating impacts on the realisation of the rights of the child, from her right to an adequate education, to her right to sexual and reproductive health. Girls who have left school have few opportunities to earn a living, which leaves them exposed to various forms of gender-based violence.
When Chief Theresa Kachindamoto returned to her village, she was shocked to meet a young 13 year-old mother who had been forced to marry. She knew then that she was going to make it her life mission to end the practice of child marriage.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” she said. “They must go to school … no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”
“I talk to the parents. I tell them: if you educate your girls, you will have everything in the future,” she said.
Working with UN Women, the government, civil society and traditional leaders, Chief Kachindamoto contributed to the February 2017 adoption of a constitutional amendment raising the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years.
Since becoming Chief, Chief Kachindamoto has annulled 3,500 child marriages in the central region of Malawi and has helped girls complete their education, often by subsidising their schooling.
17 year-old Bernadetta Matison was one girl to have her marriage annulled. Married at 15, she became pregnant in the same year. “I dropped out of school because I got pregnant,” she said. “When I think about it now, I realise that getting married at such a young age isn’t a good thing.
Chief Kachindamoto’s achievements are against all odds—as the first woman leader in her village and in a village where child marriage is deeply embedded in cultural practice, her fight for cultural change has required determination, leadership and persistence.
UN Women works with traditional leaders, like Chief Kachindamoto, and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare to ensure that changes in marital law are fully understood and implemented.