A recent symposium in Malawi, supported by Hivos, brought together key stakeholders to look at how to end the child marriages in the Southern African country.
50% of girls in Malawi are married off before they reach 18 years old according to a report by the country’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare. A study by UNICEF ranks the country in the top 10 states globally that are child marriage hotspots.
Despite these glaring statistics and numerous organisations tackling this issue from various angles, there had never been a platform to bring together the various players at a national level.
The first ever National Symposium on Child Marriages, held at the end of August 2013, served this purpose and brought together government representatives, chiefs, members of parliament, non-governmental organisations, religious leaders and journalists, with the aim of raising the awareness of stakeholders and decision makers on the status of the child marriage issue in Malawi and getting their support for initiatives to root out the practice.
Addressing the symposium, Rebecca Mahlunge from the Hivos Regional Office in Southern Africa, spoke about how the practice was perpetuated by the mindset that girls were inferior to boys and men. She pointed out that child marriages were a multiple tragedy as not only were girls married off before they had reached maturity, but they also often ended up as domestic ‘slaves’. Young women are also more likely to experience complications in pregnancy; girls between 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-14.
The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare was represented by Director of Gender, Peter Msefula. He said that the government would support existing initiatives by various stakeholders on child marriages at district, community and national level.
Many of the existing initiatives currently fall under the Malawi Child Marriages Programme which brings together various organisations working in this area. Hivos is an integral part of this programme and is in partnership with six of these organisations, many of them for several years now: Centre for Youth & Children’s Affairs (CEYCA), Centre for Youth Development & Social Empowerment (CYDSE), Foundation for Children’s Rights (FCR), Youth Net & Counselling (YONECO), Kanengo AIDS Support Organisation (KASO) and Meaningful Action on HIV/AIDS Support Network (MASUNA).
The broad aim of the programme is, through various interventions, to stop child marriages within a generation. The idea is to have all girls getting married after they are 18 through their own informed choices.