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Malawi has raised the legal marrying age from 15 to 18.
Malawi banned child marriage through new legislation that increases the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, representing a major victory for girls in a country that has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. More than half of girls are married off as children, sometimes as early as the age of nine.
Malawi’s Stop Child Marriage campaign was launched in 2011 by Genet and Let Girls Lead on the principle of empowering girls to fight for their own rights. More than 200 girls in the Chiradzulo District of southern Malawi were trained to become advocates.
“Girls’ stories and experiences are powerful. By raising their voices, girls can create change,” said Faith Phiri, the co-founder of Malawi’s Girls Empowerment Network. “When girls speak out, our leaders must listen.”
The girls lobbied 60 village chiefs to ratify and enact by-laws that protect adolescent girls from early marriage and harmful sexual initiation practices. These bylaws force men who marry girls under the age of 21 to give up their land in the village and pay a fee of seven goats, a major economic penalty in the region. The bylaws also penalize parents who marry off their underage daughters by imposing social sanctions that include three months of mandatory janitorial service in the local health clinic.
One of these powerful advocates is Memory Banda, an 18-year-old Malawian girl. When her younger sister was married aged 11 to a man in his early thirties, Memory promised herself that she would fight for girls’ rights. She went on to finish school and help lead the campaign to pass Malawi’s new law to end child marriage. Memory’s sister, on the other hand, is now 16 years old and has three children.
Memory will raise her voice at the UN to advocate for girls like her sister and for the 70 million more girls around the world who were married as children:
“My hope is that global leaders will understand that we girls are powerful leaders of change,” she says. “Marriage is often the end for girls like me. But if our leaders will invest in us and give us the chance to be educated, we will become women who create a better society for everyone.”
Helena Minchew, a young woman blooger for the International Women’s Health Coalition says the work is just beginning. She says that while this is a victory for Malawi’s women and girls, it’s important to remember that laws alone are not going to end the practice of child marriage.
“The new law is undoubtedly a milestone. But it is only part of the solution. When the law is fully implemented and is complemented by other actions to empower and protect girls, we will see real change in Malawi and around the world.”
4GGL thanks The Guardian for this story of ACTION.
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Photo Credit: This image of two young from the International Women’s Health Coalition website.