Female Malawian chief breaks up 850 child marriages
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto has worked hard to dissolve 850 child marriages in three years. She is a senior chief leading over 900,000 people in her local Dedza district. The former school administrator has a mild-mannered persona that disguises her toughness with tackling child marriages in Malawi.
Her people choose her to be a chief because she is famously good with people, and when the call came to assume the role of a leader, Chief Kachindamoto left her job as a secretary at a Zomba college in the city.
The mother of five says she was shocked when she returned home and found that there were married twelve-year-olds with babies. She couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the problem, so she got to work telling people to mend their ways.
“I told them: 'Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.'
Malawi’s alarming child marriage problem
Although the government has placed a ban on marriages before the age of 18, parents can still give consent for their underage children to get married under the customary law. According to a United Nations survey in 2012, about half of Malawian girls get married before their 18th birthday. Out of the 20 countries with high rates of child marriages, Malawi ranked number 8.
The link between child marriage and poverty
Malawi also ranks high on the list of the world’s poorest countries. As a result, parents normally send off their young girls to get married so as to ease the financial burden on the family. These girls have to face some of the severe consequences of child marriage like Vesicovaginal fistula and emergency caesarian births.
The girls also have to pass through harrowing sexual rites before being married off. They are often sent off to camps to learn how to please men sexually. They graduate after losing their virginity to their teachers in these camps. The sexual abuse is especially horrifying seeing as 1 in 10 people are HIV positive in Malawi.
The pushback against Chief Kachindamoto
Ironically, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto is facing opposition from fellow community leaders and parents of the victims of child marriage. Despite the many death threats she gets, Chief Kachindamoto is unrelenting in her fight to save young girls from predators and get them back in the classroom.
She has been able to get about 50 chiefs to sign a pact abolishing child marriage in their local jurisdictions. Her allies also include the clergy and charities that share her vision.'
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