As she went about her business one time, Dedza-based Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachindamoto met a little girl with a baby, crying.
Concerned, the chief asked her to take the child to its mother, but was shocked to learn that the infant was, in fact, hers.
This was a 13-year-old girl. She inquired about the baby’s father was and she pointed at a 14-year-old boy playing soccer with his friends close by.
The scenario was enough to compel the Dedza chief to do something about taking girls out of early marriages and back to school.
According to various Internet websites, despite diversity across regions and communities, many common threads lead to child marriages and its harmful consequences.
They say each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18, translating to 28 girls every minute — married off too soon, endangering their personal development and well-being.
A research conducted recently by Human Rights Watch in Malawi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Yemen found that intersections between gender discrimination and poverty; poor access to education and health services; customary practices; religious beliefs; and weak justice mechanisms fuel the practice.
It said most girls and family members regularly quote poverty as the driving decisions to marry young, according to the research findings.
Further, the research found that poor families marry their daughters early as an economic survival strategy because to them it means one less child to feed or educate.
Contrary to the beliefs of the families that send their young girls for early marriages, Human Rights Watch observes that child brides are often disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of fundamental rights to health, education and safety.
Chief Kachindamoto has joined hands with all the chiefs in her area to end child marriages and return the children to school.
“Every chief in my area knows that I am serious about this issue. Some of us may not have gone very far with education, but when they get educated, the same children will take care of us one day,” she says.
As the campaign to get the children back into school goes on, she says they are still monitoring girls who got pregnant from such marriages, ensuring that as soon as they give birth and have breastfed the new-borns for up to six months, the child mothers go back to school.
“We have even asked the teachers in the schools to ensure that the girls who go back to school after having their babies are not intimidated. They have to pursue their studies with peace of mind. As soon as they knock off, they have to rush and breastfeed the babies. We do not want the children born from such marriages to suffer, but to grow up healthy as well,” she says.
Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, early marriages put the girls at greater risk of dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, becoming infected with HIV/Aids and suffering domestic violence.
With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in the very poverty they were running away from.
Girls not Brides, is a global partnership of more than 550 civil society organisations (CSOs) from over 70 countries committed to ending child marriages and enabling girls to fulfil their potential.
Members are based throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America and they share the conviction that every girl has the right to lead the life that she chooses and that, by ending child marriage, the world can achieve a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for all.
Girls not Brides observes that although child marriage is prohibited in many countries, existing laws are often not enforced or provide exceptions for parental consent or traditional and customary laws. n