News / Africa

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


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

Map Shows Every US School Shooting Since 2013

There have been at least 150 school shootings in the United States since 2013, an average of nearly one per week More

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs