Mulanje — Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust -Malawi (WLSA - Malawi) has urged partners working towards the eradication of child marriages in Mulanje to be pro-active if they are to make meaningful strides.
Speaking on Thursday during a stakeholders meeting at Mulanje Boma, WLSA - Malawi Programmes Officer, Clara Lungu, observed that child marriages in the district were still on the rise despite efforts by various partners, a situation she described as worrisome.
"It is the wish of WLSA - Malawi to see all stakeholders working against child marriages being pro-active. Much as progress has been recorded in the district, the situation is still worse as seen from cases of child marriages being reported," Lungu said.
Lungu added that there is need for collaborative efforts on the part of partners in dealing with the challenge, arguing that ending child marriages in the district cannot be achieved if other key players were left out in the fight.
She, therefore, stressed the importance for parents and guardians to take a leading role in encouraging their children to complete their education instead of violating their rights by forcing them into child marriage.
"We have also observed that many children, especially young girls, are forced into marriage not only because their parents are poor but because they lack knowledge on child rights and education," Lungu said.
"So, we want to sensitize them on the dangers of such and the benefits of educating the girl child in particular for the development of the district and the country as a whole," she added.
Mulanje First Grade Magistrate, Mphalulo Fatch, said child marriages in Mulanje were still on the increase despite the district putting all the necessary restrictive measures, noting that lack of responsibility by duty bearers at community level was the major contributing factor.
"Here in Mulanje, we are working hard to reduce child marriages. We have put all the necessary measures to safeguard the girl child from this vice.
"However, there is need to sensitize all leaders at community level who think ending child marriages is a responsibility of government and NGOs only," Fatch said.
Fatch said it is a shame that in most cases, parents or guardians of the victims were in the forefront in hiding the age of the victims whenever the law enforcers interrogate them on the matter.
"Many defilement cases have been dismissed in the courts because the guardian of the survivor change the age of the child from 16 below to 16 above. This forces us to drop the case since a case involving a female above 16 years cannot be referred to as defilement," said Fatch.
In his remarks, Mulanje Police Public Relations Officer, Gresham Ngwira said the police on their part would not relent in promoting the rights of children in the district by working closely with communities to reduce child marriages.
Ngwira, however, commended WILSA - Malawi for the initiative, saying the meeting was an eye opener and a reminder that a lot of work still needed to be done to fight child marriages and other child rights abuses.