Malawi has joined the likes of Gambia and Tanzania to ban child marriage after it raised the legal marriage age to 18.
The constitutional amendment was signed by President Peter Mutharika last week after a two-year parliamentary process and subsequent approval in February.
This amended law quashes the previous practice where minors aged 15 years and above can marry with consent from their parents.
Under-aged girls in Malawi can now heave a sigh of relief because perpetrators of such marriages commit an offense punishable by five years imprisonment and a fine of about $143.
Child marriage is high in Malawi, like Gambia, Tanzania and Chad where the practice was outlawed last year with tough penalties for culprits.
Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh prohibited the practice which is now punishable by twenty years imprisonment.
— africanews (@africanews) July 9, 2016
In Tanzania, a court ruled as unconstitutional sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, which allowed girls to marry at age 15 with parental permission and at age 14 with the permission of a court.
Human Rights Watch applauds Tanzania’s ban on child marriages | Africanews https://t.co/kzYo07ASI6
— Stand Up For Rights (@StandUp4_Rights) July 11, 2016
The parliament of Chad in December last year adopted a reform of its penal code which raises the legal marriage age from 16 to 18.
Chad raises legal marriage age to 18, abrogates death penalty https://t.co/QY3OrINydP
— africanews (@africanews) December 13, 2016
Chadian President Idriss Deby also promulgated a law that punishes any person party to the marriage of a minor by 5 to 10 years prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 to 5 million FCFA (750 to 7,500 euros).
Zimbabwe is yet to come up with laws to criminalize child marriages despite last year’s court ruling that outlawed the practice by striking out section 22(1) of the Marriage Act which allowed under-aged marriage in contravention of section 78(1) of the Constitution which sets 18 years as the minimum age.
Other African countries who have already outlawed child marriages are struggling to enforce the law as the practice continues in the blind side of the authorities.
A report by Amnesty International last year indicated that Burkina Faso has one of the world’s highest rates of forced and early marriages in contravention of the law which sets the marriage age at 18.
The rights group said 51.3% of girls aged between 15 and 17 are married in the country denying them education and contraceptive health services.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also estimates in a report that some 50% of girls married off in East, West and Central Africa were under 18 years.
The report revealed that over 58% of marriages among women currently aged 20-46 years in Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Guinea, occurred when they were under age (i.e. below the age of 18).
According to UNICEF, over 14.2 million girls under the age of 15 years are getting married annually which is an approximation of 39,000 girls daily.
“As well as having strong and enforceable minimum age of marriage legislation, it is imperative that to have strong supporting legislation which protects women and girls’ rights,” civil society organisation Girls Not Brides said.
In order to prevent child marriage, a holistic and comprehensive approach must be adopted which addresses the root causes of child marriage, it added.