On that day, James Mwafulirwa, 30, arrived home at around 3am after drink ing chipumu, a strong local opaque beer popular in Chitipa.
While wielding a panga, he asked his wife, Anna Mtinja, to pack her belongings and leave the house without delay.
We found Mtinja, 26, at Kameme Magistrate’s Court with a divorce letter in her right hand.
That sunny day, she looked lonely, indolent and in tears, but unmoved.
‘‘Although I don’t have the capacity to take care of my children, I don’t want him again because he is evil,’’ Mtinja told the court in July.
She told first grade magistrate Julius Kalambo that every time her husband got drunk, he would insult and assault her severely.
Despite being a Saturday, when most people conduct wedding ceremonies, the Kameme court facilitated the legal ending of three marriages. At exactly 5pm, the jam-packed court witnessed the end of the Mtinja’s eight-year-old marriage. It begun when she was 18 and together they have two children. The last born is less than a year old.
The court ordered Mwafulirwa to be paying K10 000 every month towards the support of the children until when they are grown up. Kalambo also ordered the divorced to share all their wealth equally.
Interestingly, in all the three marriage cases that were heard on this day, women were petitioners and stood their ground that all they wanted was divorce.
Files at Kameme Magistrates’ Court show that in July alone, out of 40 cases that were presided over, 30 were applications for divorce. This means every day a marriage breaks up.
“Three quarters of cases that I preside over in Kameme per year are divorces. Most of them involve young couples married since 2000,” says Kalambo.
‘‘Unlike in the past, people now marry at a tender age. When faced with challenges, they opt for divorce due to lack of maturity,” he says. ‘‘But the danger is that after the divorce both of them remarry. This tendency is promoting the spread of HIV and Aids here in Chitipa.’’
According to the 2016 Malawi Demographics Health Survey (MDHS), Malawi is one of the worst hit countries by HIV in the sub-Saharan region. HIV prevalence rate is higher among young women at 4.8 percent compared to one percent for young men.
Nonetheless, Malawi has recently made some strides in the fight against HIV and Aids. The 2015-2016 Population-based HIV Impact Assessment Report shows a decrease in incidence rate. The prevalence rate is now at eight percent. Chitipa has a prevalence rate of 3.1 percent.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) desk officer for Karonga Diocese Abel Malumbira says gender-based violence is the major contributing factor to divorces in Kameme.
He says most men, especially in rural areas, take advantage of women’s social inequalities in gender, income as well as age to violate their rights.
The 2016 MDHS report says one third of women in Malawi have experienced physical or sexual violence inflicted by their intimate partners.
Meanwhile, the Karonga Diocese is implementing a three-year project in Chitipa to promote women and child rights.
The project, which is being funded by Misereor of Germany, will run from 2016 to 2019, aims at addressing human rights violations by, among others, supporting areas that have no residential magistrates with mobile courts.
‘‘We support magistrates with financial resources to conduct mobile courts every month in Kameme, and the purpose is to ensure that access to administration of justice for rural women and children is improved,’’ says Malumbira.
Through the project, CCJP plans to reach over 13 000 people through awareness campaigns to ensure that rights of women and children are respected.
Action Aid’s programmes officer for Chitipa, Albert Winga, attributes the divorce cases in Kameme to unequal opportunities to education for girls and boys.
Winga says due to poverty, some communities in rural areas rarely send their girls to school. As a result, they get married early.
According to the 2015-2016 Population-based HIV Impact Assessment Report, 29 percent of women aged 15 to 19 in Malawi were pregnant with their first child or were already mothers during the period.
Senior Chief Kameme is worried with the divorces, saying Malawi will one day wake up to thousands of children without proper parental care.
‘‘Some women take marriage as a means of acquiring wealth as after divorce, they go away with some property. Regardless of how many children they have, two to three years later, they remarry,” he says.
‘‘However, I am concerned with the plight of children who are increasingly becoming the worst victims of broken marriages,’’ he says.
According to the 2017 findings by Resources for the Awareness of Population Impacts on Development (Rapid), Malawi is experiencing rapid population growth due to high fertility rate.
The findings show that between 2008 and 2017, the population grew from 13.1 million to approximately 17.4 million, an increase of approximately 33 percent. n