News / Africa

In Malawi, NGOs and Government Join Forces to End Forced Marriage

Multimedia

Audio
Lameck Masina

In Malawi, NGOs and the government are working together to end forced marriages and other traditional practices that violate the rights of girls. The effort follows reports that more and more girls are being forced into marriage with older men.

One of the practices under scrutiny is kupimbira, a tradition in northern Malawi where parents arrange for their young daughters to marry older men without the girls’ consent. In return, the new husbands pay the parents a dowry or forgive a debt. Usually, this is done when the girl is still a child. Supporters say it allows parents to choose the best husbands for their daughters.

Thirteen-year-old Belita Simpokolwe was once forced to marry an old man: “My stepfather ordered me to quit school and get married to a 77-year-old man. He said I was too old for grade four. But I refused, and I told him that I want to continue with my education.

“Soon after that, my stepfather sent me to the market without money. Instead, he [told] me to collect some money from a certain gentleman ranging from $5 to $10, some of which I would use to buy some food, and return the change to him.”

Simpokolwe says she didn’t suspect anything unusual, because she thought the man was related to her stepfather.

But to her surprise, she says, three weeks later the man came to her house with a hoe – used sometimes in the north as a symbol of a dowry. If a woman agrees to take it, she has accepted his proposal.

“I was shocked when my stepfather asked me to [accept] it from the man. Confused, I objected. My mother tried to reason with him that I was too young for marriage.”

But my stepfather [attacked] my mother, saying he could divorce her if she continued opposing his wishes. He also said [we should not turn down his offer] because we had already [spent] the money from the gentleman.”

Seven-year-old Tumpe Mwambene says she was forced to marry a 40-year-old herbalist in the Karonga District. He had treated her illness, but her father had no money to pay.

Mwambene says she did household chores and was beaten if she refused to have sex.

Mwambene and Simpokolwe have now returned to school, thanks in part to groups like the Chitipa Women’s Forum. It works with a project working to defend the rights of girls called Social Empowerment on Rights for Vulnerable and Excluded Women (SERVE). The project, which is funded by the NGO ActionAid, works to defeat any practice that prevents a girl from receiving an education.

The chairperson of the Forum, Ruth Mbale, says the group tries to convince parents to allow their daughters to go back to school, even if it means rescinding their decision to force her to marry:

“Since most women here did not go further in their education,” says Mbale, “it was good to discourage early marriages and urge young girls to proceed with education, taking advantage of government’s readmission policy which allows girls to go back to school.”

But Mbale says parents and sometimes chiefs insist that they are too poor to pay girls’ school fees. So she says members of her group contribute to a fund that helps support girls who cannot pay for their education.

An impact assessment shows that the project has had some success reducing child marriage in Chitipa district, where 40 married girls between seven and 16 years old have gone back to school.

In some areas, village officials like senior chief Mwaulambia are trying to end the tradition, especially, he says, because it’s unconstitutional:

“We agree that kupimbira is a bad practice, especially today, when we are told to treat both girls and boys the same. In my area, I make sure that it is being suppressed very vividly. If someone is forcing a child into early marriage, we as chiefs have our own ways of punishing our people, or we may tell [parents they must give a chicken as a penalty]. If they object, we have the powers to evict them.”

The SERVE project is also working to end other cultural practices that can interfere with the education of women, like kulowa kufa, which requires a widow to cleanse the village of death by having sex with a man. Another is nhlazi, under which the wife’s sister or another relative is given to the husband, sometimes even if the child bride is too young to become pregnant.

Similar projects are also being implemented in three other districts; Rumphi, Salima and Chiradzulu.

 

 

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Head: Breach Won't Happen Again

Julia Pierson tells a House panel investigating a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid