One of the world's leading countries in child marriage just banned the practice forever.
Child marriage might not seem like a big deal in westernized cultures because it’s virtually non-existent and very illegal, mostly because there aren’t economic advantages to it like there are in developing countries. Many Middle Eastern and African countries either directly allow it or simply don’t make any laws against it, but one major country whose girls suffered from being forced into marriage just changed that: Malawi amended their Constitution so that girls and boys cannot be married until they are 18.
Previously, the law stated that girls could marry at the age of 15 with parental consent, which is given whole-heartedly and often driven by financial need. In Malawi, as in many other countries, the practice of giving sums of cash or other goods to a family in exchange for marrying their daughter is effective in convincing families to sell their daughters as early as possible.
President Peter Mutharika finally signed the constitutional amendment this year after his predecessors faced years of pressure but made no changes. According to Girls Not Brides, Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage with half of the girls married by age 18 and 1 in 8 married before they are 15. Now, anybody convicted of marrying a minor will face five years imprisonment and a $143 fine.
“That amendment is showing exactly the aspiration of Malawians — that we are saying ‘no’ in totality to child marriage,” said Jessie Kabwila, chairperson of the women’s caucus of Malawi’s parliament. “The loopholes that were remaining of giving consent to parents are no longer there.”
Malawians have been advocating for this amendment for years by demanding the government take action and forming organizations like the Girls Empowerment Network to help girls that desperately need to get out of their arranged child marriage by giving them the confidence to advocate for themselves and fight against inequality.
Child marriage is horrible for a number of reasons, most of all because the young girls are subjected to sex and pregnancy at such a young age that it damages their body and self-esteem. Since they are so young, they likely never attend school, meaning they can only find easy jobs with low pay if they’re allowed to work, which keeps them poor and keeps the cycle of child marriage going.
“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,” Kabwila told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview. “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.”
Many girls are first sent to a sexual initiation camp before they are married off to ‘prepare them to be wives.’ The girls are forced to have sex with an older man that is paid to engage with every girl there. It’s a barbaric practice that occurs all too often and will hopefully cease with this new law intact. Though the law is clear about the stance on child marriage, it’s the ideas behind it and the misconceptions that need to be done away with to truly end the practice.