A two-day child marriage symposium held in Mangochi last week wound up with commitments and agreements from various stakeholders to revamp community policing structures and modify cultural practices that encourage child marriages.
The symposium, organised by Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) and Girls Empowerment Network Malawi (Genet) with support from Hivos, also agreed to translate into local languages and popularise laws that protect the welfare of children.
The idea to popularise the laws followed an observation from Willard Manjolo, a director of social welfare in the Ministry of Gender, who noted some laxity in the application of the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act (2010).
The meeting—which drew participants from the media, civil society organisations, faith communities, traditional leaders, Malawi Police Service and different ministries and departments of government—also noted the need to harmonise laws that talk of a minimum age of a child.
In her presentation, Grace Malera from the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) also expressed the need to have uniform laws.
“Generally, our laws are not talking to each other. On the minimum marriage age, they say one thing and another on child labour and who is eligible to vote,” said Malera.
In 2009, Parliament amended Clause 9 in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill revising the marriage age from 15 to 16 with over two third majority support.
The amendment caused uproar as most people felt the new age was still not adequate to give children time to mature and complete their education. This forced the former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika to refer the bill back to the ministry to address people’s concerns. The new draft bill is yet to be presented to Parliament.
But some experts, including Hivos programme manager Rebecca Mahlunge, said Malawi is likely to settle for the international Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) marriage age of 18, more especially because it ratified CRC in 1991.
The stakeholders to the symposium have also committed themselves to finding ways of modifying some cultural practices, building capacity of parents and guardians on parenting skills, reintegrating and rehabilitating girls withdrawn from child marriages.
The Ministry of Gender has also pledged to finalise the child protection information systems and implementation as a measure to store data on child marriages.