Meet Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, an advocate for the rights of girls and boys in Malawi.
Kachindamoto is the paramount chief of about 900,000 people in the Dedza district in the central region of Malawi.
She has born a reputation of fearlessly annulling 850 child marriages in the last three years.
I said, well enough is enough but this time I want change. I do not like this. I want these children to be educated. Because if you educate a girl child, in future, they will take care of you.
“Yes, they said no, we have the rights for our girls and even the men, we have the rights with our boys so there is no one who can change what we are doing. I said, well enough is enough but this time I want change. I do not like this. I want these children to be educated. Because if you educate a girl child, in future, they will take care of you,” Kachindamoto said.
In 2015, Malawi adopted a bill raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. Before then, one out of every two girls in the southern African country would be married before she became an adult. The marriage law now protects girls and gives equal status to parties in all marriages.
“There are mother groups, and we have these community policing, child protection workers who are going out looking at each and every house to follow these children,” said the chief.
Nevertheless, under customary law, Malawian children can still be married off with parental consent.
With all the great strides taken by Kachindamoto, the country still has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world.
According to Children’s Fund UNICEF, Malawi is ranked eighth out of the 20 countries considered to have high rates of child marriages.
“There is need for our lawmakers, those who draft laws to make sure that the chief is assisted. Because in the absence of the amendment of these legal challenges or inconsistencies, one day she will be frustrated by the law,” explained child justice magistrate, Esme Tembenu.
Reports indicate that one of the key drivers of child marriages in mostly the rural parts of Malawi is not just custom but poverty. These factors hamper girls’ access to education, making them more vulnerable to cultural practices.
Judith Kabango is a former child bride, she was married off at the tender age of 14.
“My focus is now on education. I cannot go back because I know what it means to be married. I wasted valuable time. But now I am in full time learning and making a future for me and my child,” Kabango said.
Kabango is one of many children who have since returned to school. Now Kachindamoto wants the legal minimum marrying age to be changed to 21 from 18.