By Longtong Ibrahim
Malawi’s parliament has passed a legislation banning early marriage – raising the minimum marriageable age to 18 years – but with parental consent.
The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill has earlier streamline legislation on marriage and divorce and raises the legal age for marriage from 14 to 18. In Malawi, 47% of girls marry before the age of 18.
Under Malawi’s rules, President Peter Mutharika has to sign the legislative bill into law within three weeks before it becomes effective.
Various stakeholders, government and right activist who had been campaigning for its passage into law for over four years praised this move.
Women rights campaigners described the development as good saying, “It is a great day for Malawian girls” and thus said the law would help boost development in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The group also warned that Malawi would not end child marriage without concerted efforts to tackle poverty and end harmful traditional practices like early sexual initiations.
Jessie Kabwilla, a Parliamentarian who has helped pushed for the new legislation says the law is very important because child marriage is a big challenge in the Malawi. “The country, will for the first time clearly articulate that we are saying ‘No’ to child marriage.”
Malawi ranks eighth in the world in terms of early child marriages, with some girls as young as nine married off, because their parents are too poor to feed and clothe them, or pay for their education – most of these young girls end up being abused domestically and sexually; others die while giving birth, while some suffer from birth-related complications.
Brussels Mughogho, Malawi Country Director of EveryChild, a charity organisation 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.”