Not just another Valentine’s Day: Malawi changes the child marriage law!
It is 5:00AM, the weather looks promising, the day looks very bright as well. Tiyamike* smiles as she yawns and reluctantly wakes up to face the day, after all its Monday, and she needs to go school. Tiyamike* 16, has always dreamt of becoming an influential woman in her society and country, an Education Minister. She goes to school everyday eager to learn something new that will shape her future.
Though Tiyamike has all these dreams well sequenced in her mind, she has had to struggle to get where she is, when her parents died, her grandmother, with whom she stays, married her off to a man twice her age. Tiyamike did not like the idea of getting married, she was determined to go to school and she fought with all her energy against the marriage. She sought help from a mother group that helped her a lot and after two weeks, she got out of the marriage and went back to school.
This may be just one incident among the many that are happening to adolescent girls in most of the developing countries. So many girls Tiyamike's age and even younger are forced into early marriages against their will. Cultural practices and norms have been hard on the adolescent girl. She has no voice to speak against things that are contrary to what she perceives her life to be. Malawi is no exception.
Over the recent past, there have been inconsistencies as to which is the child age in Malawi. The constitution indicated 16 years as the age which one qualified to be called a minor. The law was in conflict with Section 14 of Marriage, Divorce and Family Act of 2015 which recognized 18 as the age which one qualifies to be called a child or a minor. Leaving girls like Halima with no concrete fighting mechanism.
Well not until recently....
THE BIG MILESTONE IN MALAWI
14th February, 2017, was not just Valentines day, it’s the day that Malawi made history. After several advocacy interventions and lobbying, the Malawi Parliament amended the child age of marriage to 18 years from 16 years. A development which commentators are calling as an instrument to end child marriages in the country. Malawi is one of the countries where child marriages are very high. A 2016 UNICEF report notes that 9%of girls in Malawi are married by 15 years while 46% are married by age 18. With these figures, Malawi ranks as the eleventh country globally with high cases of child marriages.
SAVE THE CHILDREN'S ROLE
Save the Children has worked together with other agencies to demand for harmonization of the Constitutional and legal frameworks to better deal with child marriage. More especially, advocated together with coalitions/ networks for Malawi to adopt the definition of a child as a person below the age of 18 in the constitution in line with the relevant legal frameworks and the international commitments that the government has ratified. Save the Children launched the Every Last Child Campaign in 2016 to among other objectives contribute to the reduction in Child Marriage and change in community attitudes and practices that tolerate/ promote child marriage. The campaign leverages the "Marriage no Child Play Project" the organization implements in the country and targets Children more specifically adolescent girls living in the remotest areas of Malawi.
This amendment will change the lives of many girls like Tiyamike and will provide Save the Children and many other advocates the platform with which to make sure the law is being implemented by following events closely. The amendment will also provide an opportunity to empower the girls themselves, parents and traditional leaders on the need to stand together for child rights. This amendment, gives good justification and ground to redeem the married off girls due to ignorance of the legal statutes that have been there.
This milestone surely brings with it more areas to look at, more work and more determination from our side. But we stand firm and keep our focus, deep down our hearts somersaulting with joy…knowing fully well that 14th February, 2017, wasn’t just Valentines Day….
*name changed to protect identity