22 September 2017

Malawi: Youngster's Ordeal in a Forced Marriage


Johannesburg — AT the tender age of 18, Memory Kapinama's life has come full circle having gone through both marriage and its annulment. She remembers vividly the day her childhood was disrupted while she was still aged 12. "I had come back from school midterm in 2012 when my parents told me I was getting married. They said, 'You are getting married.' I was speechless and I did not say anything in response." Not that whatever she was going to say would change the marriage her parents had organised for her to live with a man aged 23. Inevitably it took a month later in the Dedza district in the central region of Malawi. Appalling as it might seem, the young woman's experience is by no means exceptional. According to the United Nations ( UN), about half of girls in Malawi marry before they turn 18. Most of the marriages, like Kapinama's are forced. "Getting married at 12 years in our community is not so strange," said the youngster who hails from a district of over 900 000 people. "This is because some people see it as normal and being part of culture but it is bad because it interferes with our future," Kapinama said. The culture of silence saw the teenager subjected to verbal abuse from her husband and would at times contend with lack of food. "I was stressed and hungry," said Kapinama, who struggles to find the right words to express her ordeal, until a translator chips in Chichewa, the most common language spoken in southern and central regions of Malawi. "He was shouting always at me," she remembered. "I was just a girl, and the decision has had repercussions for my personal life," said Kapinama, who missed a year of schooling because the forced marriage. While in despondency, her life was about to take a new twist following the historic ascension of a new chief to the throne. Theresa John Ndovie Kachindamoto, the first female chief of the area, was installed as the paramount chief of the Dedza. She immediately embarked on a mission to dissolve child marriages and insist on education for the girls. It is through such intervention that Kapinama's forced marriage was annulled. After the lengthy period being a "housewife," she is back in school among her peers and is grateful for the second chance. The United Nations Children's Fund and the local traditional leadership fund ensured the return to school, paying her school feed and educational material. She is currently studying Environmental Health at University of Malawi. "I hope my experience through my ordeal and going back to school will assist other girls forced marriage can be survived," she said. Kachindamoto said when a girl is forcibly married and stops going to school, all prospects of a quality life were killed. "Girls, some who get married as young as 12, do not have the emotional or physical capacity to take on the responsibilities of wives and mothers," the chief said. Experts say a key challenge to ending child marriage in the Southern African country is entrenched attitudes that accept the practice. Child marriage is also closely linked to poverty, as often in rural areas girls will be married off young to improve a family's financial status. In some parts of the country, kupimbira (giving a young daughter in marriage as repayment for a debt) is still practiced. These are some of the problems parliament has set to end by amending the constitution and raising the age of marriage from 15 (with parental consent) to 18 years old for boys and girls. President Peter Mutharika signed the constitutional amendment into law at the end of April.


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