MALAWI: Child marriage law condemned

Rghts campaigners have vehemently condemned the recent passing of the Constitutional amendment bill that allows Malawian girls to marry at the age of 16 with consent from their parents.

The law, dubbed the “Chidyamakanda bill”, was presented in parliament by Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Prof Peter Mutharika and was approved.

However, some members of the ruling DPP said that they were pressured to speedily approve the amendment for girls to marry at the age of 16.

“In Parliament we are free to make decisions on issues but we do it with our political parties in mind to avoid some embarrassments. We thought the bill will include 18 years as a minimum age for marriage for women in the country,” said Deputy Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Otilia Jere, at a women’s forum in Lilongwe organised by Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).

Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) has also condemned the amendment and described the new law as an oppression of girls.

In a statement issued by Yoneco Executive Director, MacBain Mkandawire, campaigners said the law will fuel maternal mortality in the country through bleeding during births and other reproductive health related conditions such us fistula.

“Premature pregnancy carries significant health risks and pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years. Early marriage also jeopardises a girl’s right to education. In addition, married girls have few social connections, restricted control over resources and little power in their new households and domestic violence is always common in such marriages,” the statement said.

“Since at the age of 16, the girl is still a child, we say, child marriage violates their human right by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse,” the statement adds.

Yoneco said Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malawi ratified defines the child as “every human below the age of 18 years”.

Meanwhile, Director for Girls with a Vision, Sophie Munthali has urged the communities surrounding Mzuzu City to report any cases of child abuse to relevant authorities.

“Some children are forced to get married at an early stage by their parents. At school they are sometimes given punishments which are tougher than their age. This is child abuse because they are being prevented from enjoying their rights,” said Munthali.

To reverse the trend, the director said her organisation has embarked on a ‘violence against children programme’, campaigning in all schools and the surrounding communities in the city.

“We want to make the society free of child abuses so that children can enjoy and know their rights like the rights to education,” she explained.

Further information

pdf: The Zimbabwean


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