News / Africa

In Malawi, Group Works to End Early Marriage for Girls

Traditional Authority Chitera signs by-laws as GENET's Joyce Mkandawire looks on (GENET)
Traditional Authority Chitera signs by-laws as GENET's Joyce Mkandawire looks on (GENET)
Lameck Masina
In Malawi, many girls drop out of school because they are forced by their families to marry an older man.  But a local NGO is working to change the practice.
The Stop Child Marriage project is following widely reported cases of girls dropping out from school largely because of forced early marriages.
The project is being carried out in Chitera village in the southern district of Chiradzulu.  The region has one of the country’s highest rates of child marriage.
Faith Phiri is the Executive Director of the Girls Empowerment Network, GENET.
“In this area," she says, "you could hear stories of girls as young as 10 or 11 years being forced into marriage with men four or five times older. So that’s why we thought of running this campaign so that we should change the situation of adolescent girls in this area”.
Phiri says one of contributing factors is a traditional practice known as Kusasa Fumbi.  It requires girls who have begun their menstrual cycles to have sex with a man as a way of removing what is called ‘childhood dust’. 
“Such a tradition negatively impacts the lives of adolescent girls because after undergoing an initiation ceremony, the girl is deemed to be mature enough to handle marriage. This is usually at the age of around 10, 11 or 12,”  she explains.
Phiri says another danger is that most of the men hired for removing so-called ‘dust’ don’t use condoms and put their adolescent partners at risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. 

Another cultural practice, Chitomero, encourages parents to offer a dowry to an older man who agrees to marry their young daughter.   
Phiri says the Girls Empowerment Network is asking traditional leaders to modify or abolish the practices.
“Over 22 community leaders sat down and drafted by-laws that are there to protect the adolescent girls. In these areas, child marriage is now a criminal offence. People have been penalized because of violating these by laws,”  she says.
The Traditional Authority – Chitera, or supreme leader of the village and 50 others,  has taken action against the practice.  She says the by-laws penalize any traditional leader or parent who authorizes the marriage of a girl younger than 21 years of age.
“The chiefs are penalized by paying seven goats to me," she says. "Parents who force their children into marriage would be fined to pay three chickens to their village headman and a goat to me, the ‘traditional authority.’”
Chitera says there have been no cases of child marriage since the formal adoption of the by-laws six months ago.
And this is good news to the girls in the district.  Thokozani Kazembe is a 17-year old attending secondary school at Nkhande Secondary School.
“We girls here have benefited a lot from the empowerment project," says Kazembe. "Besides advocating the abolition of the bad cultural practices, it has also enlightened us to [think about]  who we want to become after completing our education. In the past, we were attending school just because we wanted to learn reading and writing.”
Phiri says the challenge is that it becomes difficult to punish some people from villages which are not party to the bylaws when they take an underage girl for marriage. 
She says if there are enough funds, they plan to extend the three- year project to the rest of the district and completely end early marriage.

Listen to report on the early marriage of girls in Malawi
Listen to report on the early marriage of girls in Malawi i
|| 0:00:00

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs