Malawi’s no nonsense, no-negotiation no-other-way-child-marriage terminator, is delightfully Maravi Post pick for the Person of the Year 2016. This is for very good reason. She is the epitome of how local communities respond to government intervention as through policies and laws; inherently government usually also is responding to international conventions and policies.
In 2010 a SADC-sponsored resolution called for the UN Secretary-General to give the General Assembly a report on the State of Child, Early and Forced Marriage. This led to an astounding revelation.
According to the UN, Child marriage is a human rights violation but despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread. This is in part because of persistent poverty and gender inequality. In many developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18; one in nine is married under age 15. Despite its dangers, the practice of child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their prospects of communities where it is practiced and upheld. The UN reports that girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth; such complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
The UNSG’s report consequently led to the first-ever resolution on child, early and forced marriage adopted at the Human Rights Council in 2013 that among others
- Co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of over 100 countries, including countries with high rates of child marriage
- Stresses the need to include child, early and forced marriage in post-2015 international development agenda
- Consensus building on the urgent need to address the issue in international fora
Over 100 countries co-sponsored a resolution on child, early and forced marriage at the Human Rights Council calling for the elimination of child, early and forced marriage.
The Malawi Parliament passed a landmark law in 2015 forbidding marriage before age 18 but Malawian children can still marry with parental consent under constitutional and customary law, and traditional authority.
It is not a secret that Malawi is one of the world’s poorest places, ranking 160th out of 182 countries on the United Nations human development index (HDI). In rural areas, where child marriage is more prevalent as a way for parents to relieve their financial burden, the continuance of the practice is like a shot in the foot, in that while poverty drives the practice; it is ironically also the practice that fuels further poverty in communities where child marriage is common.
Selfless acts of mercy as shown by Sr Chief Kachindamoto, are among the many antidotes to the yeast of poverty inherent in the practice of child marriage.
Theresa Kachindamoto quit her job of 27 years as a secretary at a college in the city of Zomba, when her home to Monkey Bay chose her to be their Sr. Chief. She is the youngest of 12 siblings from a line of traditional Malawian authority figures, and a mother of five, Kachindamoto became a chief to more than 100,000 people, but she comes.
It did not take long for Kachindamoto to take notice of various optics in her community: Many girls had babies on their backs, and when she quizzed them, many of them were married with most siting that the marriages were concluded against their desires. More than half of Malawi’s girls are married before the age of 18, per a 2012 U.N. report. Malawi ranks eighth out of 20 countries with the world’s highest child-marriage rates.
The soft-spoken Sr. Chief reports how she first conducted a mini survey that resulted in her approaching the local area traditional authorities (village headmen and women). Together they crafted a Bylaw that prohibited child marriage in the area.
To prove how serious she was on the matter Kachindamoto had terminated several village headpersons that would not abide by the Bylaw. Kachindamoto first shot to the limelight when she not only annulled 300marriages of mostly girls and some boys, but also sent them back to school. In some cases, she had to use her personal funds to keep the girls and boys in school. This is especially at the secondary school level where tuition has proved to be costly for man poor Malawians.
She has however, worked in unison with her traditional leaders. Such work has catapulted Kachindamoto into the global forum – most notable the United Nations. This year she was the keynote speaker at a Malawi Government side event at the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60). She has become the instant Darling of the international community due untiring efforts to combat the phenomena that is both a global and local menace. This menace is the continued practice of child, early and forced marriage; a practice that fuels global poverty and threatens the enjoyment of the human rights of millions of girls and women.
Kachindamoto reports of begging parents to keep their girls in school, saying education will bring them a greater fortune than early marriage; sadly, many of them respond by siting their traditions or that she should not lecture them on their own children, especially the girls. She has even faced death threats.
This has not deterred her in her determination to championing the battle to end child marriage in her communities, taking even the message to national, regional, and global platforms. In three years, Kachindamoto has broken up more than 850 marriages, and sent all the children involved back to school.
Earlier this year she was the recipient of the Hrank Dink International Award, given to her in Istanbul, Turkey. She was also the recipient of a 49,500 award for community organization activities. This coming year, she is the recipient of another international award and see her traveling to the USA to receive the award. In October, Sr. Chief was among 100 of the world’s women that were honored by the organization Vital Voice.
When she first came to the US in March 2016, founding CEO Janet Karim in collaboration with ADP CEO Robert Michael, presented the Sr. Chief with an iPad for her ease of communicating with the outer community on her magnanimous work in ending the scourge of child marriage in Malawi.
As the awards continue to pour on the Sr. Kachindamoto, please join Maravi Post in saluting Sr. Chief Theresa Kachindamoto for her magnanimous work on ending child, early and forced marriage in Malawi!
Written by Janet Zeenat Karim with Contribution from The Maravi Post Team