In Malawi, UNICEF reported that in 2017, 46% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 9% before the age of 15. This has robbed our sisters the opportunity of getting a decent education, increases the risk of them dying during giving birth and elevated levels of poverty.
The problem of child marriage is centered on a number of factors: lack of enforcement on marriage laws, poverty, cultural beliefs and the lack of role models. But there is hope.
First, the age mark for marriage in the constitution was revised to 18. What we are remaining with is enforcement, without forming new structures; all local chiefs should be empowered and used to enforce the marriage age restriction. Law breakers must be prosecuted accordingly.
Current working examples are that of Salima and Dedza districts where Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto terminated and rescued hundreds of girls from child marriages and ensured they were back in school.
Secondly, communities have to be made aware of the evils of child marriages. Real life examples of people who have been through child marriages should be given platforms to lecture their respective communities on evils of child marriages. Such a hidden human resource is in abundance throughout our townships and villages. Instead of rebuking their choices or situation, we could use them to prevent another catastrophe.
Thirdly, we can use tradition to end child marriages. To mark their rite of passage into adulthood, children in Malawi undergo initiation ceremony camps, chinamwali. On top of training children on their cultural norms and vices, respect and how to be useful citizen, sexual reproductive health and anti-child marriage talks could also be tendered at such gatherings.
This should replace the current system where instructions are mostly about sex and encouraging sexual cleansing, Kusasa fumbi, which in simple terms is to engage in sex as a mark of transition into adulthood. Such a tradition corrupts girl’s minds and girls end up marrying young. Instead, parents could brainstorm proper ways of giving instructions during chinamwali without solely going against the whole tradition.
Fourthly, in schools and communities, girls and boys should be exposed to role models who can motivate and guide them. These role models should be strategically chosen people whose significance is clearly relevant to the targeted communities. Their life stories should resonate well with life challenges or origins of the audience, and have a significant influence on them to choose education above all else. In addition, schools should make a deliberate effort to ensure pupils are exposed to their dream careers by organizing education trips to various work places and tertiary institutions. This will paint a picture of a future that education holds if the children cling to it. In that way, they are encouraged and would want to stay in school and strive to be where their peers are.