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Malawi Bans Child Marriage

Malawi Bans Child Marriage

Malawi has passed a law banning child marriage, raising the minimum age to 18 in a country where half of girls end up as child brides.

Reuters reports;

Women rights campaigners hailed the move as “a great day for Malawian girls” and said the law would help boost development in one of the world’s poorest countries. They however¬†warned that the country¬†would not end child marriage without concerted efforts to tackle poverty and end harmful traditional practices like early sexual initiations.

Parliamentarian, Jessie Kabwila, who helped push for the new legislation, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview, “This law is extremely crucial because child marriage is a big, big problem in our country.¬†The country will for the first time clearly articulate that we are saying ‘No’ to child marriage.¬†This law is very important because of the number of girls who drop out of school because they are going to get married, and because of the high numbers of girls who are dying when they are giving birth.¬†We cannot talk about development if we have child marriage. Women’s empowerment is a crucial player in development and women cannot be empowered if they are not educated.”

Child marriage is deeply entrenched in Malawi’s society partly because of a belief that a girl should marry as early¬†as possible to maximize her fertility.¬†Malawi has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage with half of girls marrying¬†before their 18th¬†birthday and nearly one in eight by 15¬†with parental consent. Many girls marry much younger.

Brussels Mughogho, Malawi country director of development charity EveryChild, 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.

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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.”

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