Malawi has described as effective the engagement of traditional leaders in the fight against child marriages.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani said this at a side event during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62)at the United Nations Building in New York last week.
She said Malawi’s engagement of traditional leaders is complementing government efforts in ending child marriages with notable changes registered where chiefs are actively involved.
Present at the event, monitored in Iceland by fellows at the United Nations University Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme who were also involved in organising the event, was also Senior Chief Kachindamoto of Dedza who has gained international recognition for ending child marriages in her area.
The side event was organised by the UN Women and the United Nations University Gender Equality Studies and Training (UN-GEST) with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland to highlight the issue of child marriage, how it impacts girls in rural areas and success stories through formal and informal structures.
Malawi and Zambia, represented at the event at ministerial level, are said to be leading champions at both continental and global levels in efforts to eradicate child marriage with demonstrable progress at the national and community levels, with traditional leaders playing a lead role within communities.
Both countries have developed national strategies and launched campaigns to end child marriage.
In her address, Kalilani said besides engaging traditional leaders in dealing with the vice, the Malawi government has put in place policies and practices aimed at dealing with child marriages.
She said: “The Government of Malawi has developed initiatives like the review of the Constitution to review marriage age from 15 to 18, facilitation of the development of by-law frameworks for chiefs and community leaders to condemn child marriages, promotion of re-admission of girls who drop out of school into school as well as vocational skills for older girls, among others, to end child marriages and empower girls.”
While describing early marriages as a violation of human rights, the special envoy for gender equality in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, Ambassador Kristin Arnadottir, congratulated Malawi on the initiatives put in place to end child marriages, especially the involvement of traditional leaders, since they are the ones that live in the rural areas where issues of child marriages are rampant.
She said: “We would like to recognise the significant role of traditional leaders such as Chief Kachindamoto in ending child marriages. We are honoured to share this event with her today.”
But Arnadottir said poverty is the root cause of early marriages and needs to be addressed in dealing with the vice.
UN Women regional director for East and Southern Africa Izeduwa Derex-Briggs described child marriage as big in Africa; hence, the need to fill the gap that exists in linking high political will with traditional culture.
During the event, a video was shown on how Senior Chief Kachindamoto is working with her community to make sure that there are no child marriages in her territory.
In her remarks, the chief, flanked by Senior Chief Chikumbu of Mulanje, explained how she has dissolved over 2 500 child marriages in her jurisdiction and how most of those in these marriages have been integrated back in school.
But the chief said the challenge comes when the girls are withdrawn from the marriages and the parents are failing to provide for their necessities at school such as school fees and uniform.
In Malawi, 46 out of every 100 girls get married before the age of 18, a situation that ruins their education. n