Despite recent legal victories, child marriage remains a key challenge in the country, with Malawi having the 11th highest rate in the world and the ninth highest rate in Africa.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani said this in Lilongwe on Friday during a Gender Policy Dialogue aimed at catalysing and strengthening the ongoing efforts to end child marriages in Malawi.
She said the 2016 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that about 47 percent of women are married before the age of 18.
“This situation is socially and economically unacceptable and should be addressed at all levels,” said Kalilani.
However, she thanked President Peter Mutharika, as one of the nine global He4She Champions, for investing in the implementation of Goal Number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union Agenda 2063 which recognises women empowerment as key to development.
“As a champion for the Demographic Dividend at the African Union [AU] level, the President has also embarked on ending child marriages and re-admitting girls into schools. This dialogue has also come after the United Nations [UN] General Assembly, where the President was recognised by UN Women for his efforts in this cause,” Kalilani said.
She said to reduce child marriages; government is also implementing a number of interventions, including laws such as Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, Gender Equality Act, Deceased Estates Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act and Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the 2015 Marriage Act that raised the marriage age to 18 years.
Kalilani added that capacity building of traditional leaders and mother groups who are instrumental in ending child marriages through the use of community by-laws; Gender-Based Violence National Action Plan (GBV-NAP), and a mass media campaign against child marriages locally known as “Lekeni” are some of the interventions.
An official from African Institute for Development Policy (Afidep) Nyovani Madise said many families in Malawi see child marriage as a way to improve their financial status through the payment of a bride price or other support from the groom, or simply as a way to reduce the financial burden of raising a girl child.
“Girls may also view marriage as a way to improve their financial and social status. Regional and cultural differences exist with regard to child marriage,” said Madise.
She gave an example of Chitipa, where in some parts it is traditionally common practice for parents to give their daughters in marriage to pay a debt in a practice called ‘kupimbila’. n