Tackling child marriage in Malawi

  • Thirteen-year-old Duwana Walasi lives in a poor rural village near Mangochi, on the shores of Lake Malawi.
    Thirteen-year-old Duwana Walasi lives in a poor rural village near Mangochi, on the shores of Lake Malawi.
  • As a way of escaping from poverty her grandparents wanted to marry her off.
    As a way of escaping from poverty her grandparents wanted to marry her off.
  • Life at home was difficult. Her mother was unemployed, and her father rarely contributed to the family’s coffers. She was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13.
    Life at home was difficult. Her mother was unemployed, and her father rarely contributed to the family’s coffers. She was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13.
  • Duwana was timid when she spoke to us at first but said: “I had to marry because of poverty. I thought a husband would provide a better life for me.”   Luckily for Duwana, the Jalasi Watch Group stepped in. They approached her and persuaded her that she didn’t need to get married.
    Duwana was timid when she spoke to us at first but said: “I had to marry because of poverty. I thought a husband would provide a better life for me.” Luckily for Duwana, the Jalasi Watch Group stepped in. They approached her and persuaded her that she didn’t need to get married.
  • Duwana said: “The watch group counseled me and told me about the negative effects of early marriage and the benefits of education. “I listened to them and made a decision to go back to school.”
    Duwana said: “The watch group counseled me and told me about the negative effects of early marriage and the benefits of education. “I listened to them and made a decision to go back to school.”
  • Watch Groups are local mechanisms that enforce national and local by-laws. The chiefs give these groups the power to report on cases of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV), early, child and forced marriage or any harmful traditional practices.   The Watch Groups can hear each case and then pass judgment on perpetrators.
    Watch Groups are local mechanisms that enforce national and local by-laws. The chiefs give these groups the power to report on cases of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV), early, child and forced marriage or any harmful traditional practices. The Watch Groups can hear each case and then pass judgment on perpetrators.
  • One of the chiefs that gave the Jalasi Watch group its mandate was Chief Balakasi who is the senior group village head which means she oversees several villages in the Majuni area. She comes from a family of chiefs - all four of her siblings are chiefs.
    One of the chiefs that gave the Jalasi Watch group its mandate was Chief Balakasi who is the senior group village head which means she oversees several villages in the Majuni area. She comes from a family of chiefs - all four of her siblings are chiefs.
  • “The early marriage by-laws were created because we have a problem with young girls getting married too early. All the chiefs sat down to agree on these by-laws. We went into the community to raise awareness. What I see, is that this project has assisted us in understanding the importance of child education. When we educate the girl child it is like we have educated the whole world,” she added.
    “The early marriage by-laws were created because we have a problem with young girls getting married too early. All the chiefs sat down to agree on these by-laws. We went into the community to raise awareness. What I see, is that this project has assisted us in understanding the importance of child education. When we educate the girl child it is like we have educated the whole world,” she added.
  • Duwana’s mother went to the Watch Group who intervened on the day of her wedding. She said: “Duwana was encouraged to enter into marriage by my in-laws. It pained me to see my child getting married at such a young age. I immediately reported the matter to the Watch Group who summoned the young people and parents from either side before the chief where the child marriage was terminated.” She added: “Chief Balakasi charged us and my in-laws and I had to pay MKW 15,000.00 (USD 20.00) to the Watch Group.”
    Duwana’s mother went to the Watch Group who intervened on the day of her wedding. She said: “Duwana was encouraged to enter into marriage by my in-laws. It pained me to see my child getting married at such a young age. I immediately reported the matter to the Watch Group who summoned the young people and parents from either side before the chief where the child marriage was terminated.” She added: “Chief Balakasi charged us and my in-laws and I had to pay MKW 15,000.00 (USD 20.00) to the Watch Group.”
  • Imam Al-Haji Adam Dickson Mogoya is a sheikh and chair of the local Watch Group that dealt with Duwana’s case. He said: “In the case of child marriage involving Duwana Walasi we summoned parents of the culprits from either side and brought them before our Senior Group.  “The marriage was terminated, and the girl was sent back to school where she has passed her examination to continue with her education,” he added.
    Imam Al-Haji Adam Dickson Mogoya is a sheikh and chair of the local Watch Group that dealt with Duwana’s case. He said: “In the case of child marriage involving Duwana Walasi we summoned parents of the culprits from either side and brought them before our Senior Group. “The marriage was terminated, and the girl was sent back to school where she has passed her examination to continue with her education,” he added.
  • The watch group also made sure that Duwana was connected to her local health facility to ensure that her experience had not led to any medical problems.
    The watch group also made sure that Duwana was connected to her local health facility to ensure that her experience had not led to any medical problems.
  • “The government is also working hard to ensure that the community is aware of the laws and that the laws are enforced,” said Milton Moyo, a police officer in-charge of the Victim Support Unit at Mangochi Police Station. He explained how the government was addressing the issues of early marriage and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and why it was a priority.
    “The government is also working hard to ensure that the community is aware of the laws and that the laws are enforced,” said Milton Moyo, a police officer in-charge of the Victim Support Unit at Mangochi Police Station. He explained how the government was addressing the issues of early marriage and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and why it was a priority.
  • There is a local ‘Safe Schools Programme’ that aimed to keep girls in school and away from early marriage. The programme reaches out to those in school and out-of-school.
    There is a local ‘Safe Schools Programme’ that aimed to keep girls in school and away from early marriage. The programme reaches out to those in school and out-of-school.

Malawi has one of the most comprehensive laws against child marriage in Africa after a new bill was passed in 2017 increasing the legal marital age from 15 to 18-years-old.

The Marriage Act of Malawi in 2017 protects any girl under the age of 18 from marriage and holds parents or other family members who marry their children off below the age accountable and liable to prosecution.

But even with the law, cases of child marriage are still happening but community Watch Groups have been set up to help. This is the story of one girl helped by her local watch group.

Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) with money from the Japan Trust Fund supports the watch group by building the capacity of its members. Five members of the Jalasi Watch Group have been trained about the law, policies around the issue of child marriage and how they align with the by-laws.

© Photos: James Ngechu