It is no secret that Malawi faces the problem of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM). The United Nations reports that one in every two girls marries before turning 18, with 12 in 100 married by their 15th birthday.
The figures also reveal that between 2010 and 2013, almost 30 000 girls in primary school and 4 000 in secondary school dropped out due to early marriages.
CEFM violates human rights of the girls. It prevents them from attaining education, leads to health complications that fuel pregnancy-related deaths, encourage spread of HIV and generally derails national development.
Different efforts have been made in an attempt to prevent and eliminate this tragedy in the country. These approaches have mostly targeted the girls themselves. Whilst this is slowly gaining pace, a different approach would make tremendous improvements in the fight.
I strongly believe that involving young men can help in preventing and eliminating CEFM. My experience as an advocate against CEFM with the Commonwealth-led initiatives, especially the operationalisation of the Kigali Declaration in Malawi, points to this road less travelled.
Mostly, CEFM is fuelled by behaviour of older men and modifying their behaviour at a young age can make great improvements in the future. Young men of today are the older men of tomorrow who would want to marry premature girls later on in their lives.
CEFM involves two parties, the girl child and the man. Current interventions have targeted the former and neglected the latter. A young man who is empowered and educated about the negative consequences of the trend today is very unlikely to engage in it later on.
Therefore, it is worthy investing in empowering young men to prevent and eliminate CEFM now so as to prevent future CEFM.
Communication of men to men is also key.
Interventions that target men currently do so through conferences, traditional meetings and public awareness campaigns. However, man-to-man communication would be more effective than these methods. A young man trained in the fight against CEFM can pass strong messages than a conference or a meeting.
Men can approach and speak with their fellow men who are involved in CEFM to discuss the effects of the malpractice. These men can be equipped while they are young and could take action now and in the future.
Apart from that, young men can easily report CEFM cases than the abused girls.
One of the problems in fighting against CEFM is that most of such cases are not reported to police, human rights organisations or any other relevant authorities. This is because the voices of the women in our society are usually not heard and the victims are taught to be submissive to men. Young men can, therefore, play a huge role in reporting the rights violations.
Lastly, young men can play a very important role as they are close to girls. The victims of the unwanted marriages are our sisters, schoolmates and even our partners.
This proximity means that young men can easily report CEFM cases, revolt against such practises and most importantly can help healing of the girls who are usually psychologically affected by CEFM.
After all, as young men we are citizens of this country and we are affected by CEFM in one way or the other.
We are thus entitled to speak out and influence government policies on national development issues.
I, therefore, urge all of you to join in the fight against CEFM as well. Let’s be the change we want to see in our societies! n