15 February 2017

Malawi Changes Law to End Child Marriage

Photo: USAID
Young girls study (file photo).

Malawi has made a historic amendment to its constitution to fully outlaw child marriage following a year-long campaign by youth groups and organisations including Plan International. The amendment to fully outlaw child marriage in Malawi was voted through by the country's parliament on Tuesday 14 February. It removes a legal loophole which has allowed children between 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent.

Malawian Parliamentarians voted 131 to 2 in favour of removing this provision. A campaign to totally outlaw the practice, partially driven by Malawian young people supported by children’s rights organisation Plan International, has now helped to secure a better future for millions of Malawian girls.

Youth-driven campaignMemory Banda, 20, one of the young people who has led the campaign, said: “When my little sister was just 11, she was forced to marry the man who got her pregnant. At the time, I was young and thought this was normal. But I quickly realised the devastating impact it had on her when she was further abused in marriage. When she came home, I saw the person who had been my little sister wasn’t my little sister anymore. Now, together with a team of young campaigners supported by Plan International, we’ve worked with the government to amend the constitution of our country to help end child marriage – once and for all.”

As of 2015, Malawi had the ninth highest rate of child marriage in the world. The practice is technically already prohibited by law in Malawi, having been banned in 2015 with the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Law, which increased the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18. But in spite of this important step, the Constitution contained a legal loophole that still allowed children between 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent.

Ending child marriage – once and for all

Lilly Omondi, Country Director for Plan International Malawi, said: “This is a momentous change for future generations of Malawi – and we are so pleased that young people have played a huge part in this success. For the relevant ministers and other decision-makers to hear from young people themselves was crucial to the process. By ensuring that they have had their voices heard, these young people have helped to secure the health and happiness of millions of Malawian girls to come.”

Alongside a taskforce of government bodies, advocates, activists, public officials, traditional authorities, politicians, religious leaders, and teachers, young people have been fighting for their rights, calling for the constitution to be changed. The work of the young people, supported by Plan International UK, was funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development.

The campaign has been building support for some time. In September last year, young campaigners joined representatives from Plan International at a National Girls’ Conference and presented the First Lady of Malawi a petition expressing global solidarity with the young campaigners. The petition had over 42,000 signatures from more than 30 countries worldwide.

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