A Malawian female chief has established a new law to prevent child marriage in Malawi and has terminated approximately 850 child marriages across the country to date.
Theresa Kachindamoto, a senior chief in the Dedza district of Malawi, claimed that her decision to take a stand came from her frustration over seeing 12-year-old girls walking around with babies on their hips.
Kachindamoto said she took action by making at least 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated’,” Kachindamoto told Al Jazeera.
In addition to the agreement, Kachindamoto instructed the leaders to annul any existing underage unions, and to send all the girls involved back to school.
Despite marriages of children under the age of 18 having been made illegal in 2015, “customary law” in the country dictates that with parental consent, along with the blessing of traditional leaders, such marriages can indeed go ahead.
Following Kachindamoto’s ruling, four male chiefs were suspended due to their continued approval of child marriages in the area.
The four men were only allowed back into their positions after they provided proof that the marriages had been annulled.
In addition to making huge strides in ending child marriage in her area, Kachindamoto also operates a secret network of parents to keep an eye on the children and ensure that they do not get pulled out of schools.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” Kachindamoto told the United Nations. “They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with statistics indicating that one in two girls will be married before reaching the age of 18.
In less urbanised zones of the country, statistics can be even higher, with poor parents often feeling pressurised to “sell off” their daughters in exchange for dowry, according to Unicef