Failure by government to end early marriages may result in poverty, illiteracy and maternal deaths.
The warning comes amid rising number number of reports of early marriages in the country.
Weekend Nation camped for four days in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chilipa in Mangochi where we found that early marriages are rampant in the area that only three girls have reached Form Four in the past 10 years.
It was discovered that girls, some as young as 11, are forced to marry older men, while others are forced out of school to marry men who travel to South Africa. And yet the country’s laws put marriage age at 18.
In an interview during an undercover mission two weeks ago, young girls in T/A Chilipa, told Weekend Nation that they are angered with government’s failure to mitigate the far-reaching harm of child marriages in the area.
One girl from Liba Village, Chikulani Phiri, who dropped out of school because she was married off at 17, said she had to abandon marriage to return to school.
The girl is now 20 years old and has a two-year-old baby.
She said: “I was married when I was 17. In our village, very few girls have reached Form One. So there was no role model for me to pursue education further.
“Even today, we have many girls in our village who are married. Only four girls still go to school.”
Another girl, Annie Mkunga, 16, has returned to school. She was married and has a year-old baby.
Ninteen years old Elanive has a two-year-old baby. She was married to a 37-year-old man at 16.
She says she is fighting early marriage because she does not want other girls to experience what she went through.
Chiwambala Primary School deputy head teacher Peter Wankie said many girls in the area drop out at puberty.
He said the school registered over 200 girls at the start of the school calendar, but today it has about just 50.
The Chilipa story mirrors what has been happening in many parts of the country where girls were forced to marry early.
Meanwhile Parliament has amended the law to change the age of a child from 16 to 18.
A 2012 United Nations survey found that more than half of Malawi’s girls were married before 18. It ranked Malawi 8th out of 20 countries thought to have the highest child-marriage rates in the world.
According to a World Vision report on child marriage titled ‘Untying the Knot: Exploring Early Marriage in Fragile States’, fear of premarital pregnancies, rape, hunger, and homelessness were all drivers of child marriage.
“Girls trapped in child marriage tend to be poor, under-educated and living in rural areas where birth and death rates are high and where conflict is common,” reads the report in part.
T/A Chilipa said he has set-up committees to ensure that the practice is stopped in his area.
In an interview, chief director in the Ministry of Gender Mary Shawa said she is shocked that girls are still being married off at an early age in Chilipa.
She said the ministry will probe the matter.
“We will investigate and if this is true, then we will arrest chiefs involved. We will engage the T/A of that area to tell us what he is doing on this,” said Shawa.