Here’s a piece of good news for a change – Malawi has said no to child marriage.
Malawi has passed a law banning child marriage, raising the minimum age to 18 in a country where half of girls end up as child brides.
Women rights campaigners hailed the move as “a great day for Malawian girls” and said the law would help boost development in one of the world’s poorest countries.
But they warned Malawi would not end child marriage without concerted efforts to tackle poverty and end harmful traditional practices like early sexual initiations.
The law is an important part though.
Malawi has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Half of girls wed before their 18th birthday and nearly one in eight is married by 15.
Early marriage not only deprives girls of education and opportunities, but also increases the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready. Child brides are also at greater risk of domestic and sexual violence.
And they’re less able to protect their children, and to teach them, and generally to be a parent to them.
Child marriage is deeply entrenched in Malawi’s society partly because of a belief that a girl should marry as early as possible to maximize her fertility.
Because that’s all women are: machines for making babies.
Brussels Mughogho, Malawi country director of development charity EveryChild, said poverty pushed some families to marry off young daughters in exchange for a dowry payment or so that they had one less mouth to feed.
Mughogho said it was also vital to work with traditional leaders to end early sexual initiations which fuel child marriage.
In parts of Malawi, when a girl reaches puberty she may receive a night-time visit from an older man – known as “a hyena” – who has sex with girls to prepare them for marriage.
“There are so many driving factors behind child marriage,” Mughogho said. “This is a very important step that we’ve taken, but child marriage will never end with legal instruments alone.”
Good luck, Malawi. You’ve taken a crucial first step; well done.