Leading Efforts To End Child Marriage: The Case Of Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of Malawi

Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto

The practice of marrying off girls at a young age is a practice that is common in many traditional African communities. Yet, child marriage has immense negative effects on the health of girls.

Child marriage promotes gender inequality as once they are married off, it often signals the end of schooling for most of these girls. Most child brides come from poor families and with their education halted, the cycle of poverty continues. Unable to work or engage in meaningful economic activities, the girls become financially dependent on their husbands. This often means that they have no decision-making or negotiating powers in the home.

FPAM child marriage
13-year-old Duwana Walasi lives in a poor rural village near Mangochi, on the shores of Lake Malawi. Life at home was difficult. Her mother was unemployed, and her father rarely contributed to the family’s needs. She was forced to drop out of school. As a way of escaping from poverty her grandparents wanted to marry her off. Photo: IPPF/James Ngechu/Malawi

Early child marriage also denies the girls the opportunity to enter a loving union with a spouse of their choice. Married to much older men, many child brides are forced to endure years of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual violence from their husbands and their in-laws.

Further, the practice of child marriage has strong adverse effects on the life and health of the girls. It increases their risk for cervical cancer and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV. In most cases, the girls are forced to start families when they are not physically and emotionally ready to do so.

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Investing in the education of young girls helps in breaking the cycle of poverty. Photo: IPPF/James Ngechu/Malawi

Early pregnancy predisposes young girls to a myriad of challenges such as increased susceptibility to malaria-related complications, death during childbirth due to among others: eclampsia, post-partum haemorrhage and obstructed labor -which often leads to obstetric fistula. Their babies also face severe health risks -some of which are fatal.

United Against Child Marriage -an FPAM Initiative

Malawi is one of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage in Africa. To address this, the Malawi government, in collaboration with different organizations, has over the years engaged in stringent efforts to address the harmful culture. IPPF’s Member Association in Malawi -Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) is recognized as one of the leading organizations that works together with the government in this regard.

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One of FPAM's youth centers, where young people receive a variety of youth-friendly SRHR information and services. Photo: IPPF/Arjen van de Merwe/Malawi

One of the successful strategies that FPAM has always used in the implementation of its programs and projects is closely working with different partners and stakeholders to achieve its objectives. These include government, ministries, health institutions, parents, youth groups, champions, opinion formers, religious and community leaders such as chiefs, elders and other traditional leaders.

The ‘United Against Child Marriage’ project; Partnership with Local Custodians of Culture 

The United Against Child Marriage project is one of the initiatives that FPAM has engaged in to address the harmful practice. At the beginning of the project, FPAM identified Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto -a prominent Ngoni Chief in the Central region of Malawi as a strategic and invaluable partner. Chiefs enact community by-laws for the development of the community and ensure that these by-laws are enforced.

Watch: Ending Child Marriage in Malawi

An outstanding advocate in different health, development and cultural issues, Senior Chief Kachindamoto is one of Malawi’s foremost female empowerment champions. She believes that Chiefs, as custodians of culture, are expected to be at the forefront in ending cultural practices that negatively affect the community’s health and development. Senior Chief Kachindamoto believes that these custodians of culture should be role models in society, owing to the respect that the community members accord them.

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Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of Malawi. Photo: courtesy.

In her community, Senior Chief Kachindamoto has played a leading role in addressing some of the harmful gender norms which affect young women and girls, such as sexual cleansing (fisi).

Saddened by the increase in child marriages in her area, FPAM identified her as a strong collaborative partner. Her engagement in the project has seen her consistently engage different traditional and community leaders in seeking solutions to address the harmful practice.

Senior Chief Kachindamoto was part of the team of Chiefs who formulated by-laws to end child marriages in her area, and the annulment of such already existing marriages. These laws stipulate that no girl/boy should be married before the age of 18 years. Through her participation in FPAM’s ‘United Against Child Marriage’ project, she annulled over 300 child marriages.

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Members of a community watch group holding discussions. The Marriage Act of Malawi in 2017 protects any girl under the age of 18 from marriage and holds parents or other family members who marry their children off below the age accountable and liable to prosecution. But even with the law, cases of child marriage are still happening. Community watch groups have been set up to help with this. Photo: IPPF/James Ngechu/Malawi

Senior Chief Kachindamoto has always championed access to education for young girls, and, together with local school administrators and organizations such as FPAM, she has strengthened the re-admission policy of girls back to school.

Aside from the ‘United Against Child Marriage’ project, FPAM continues to, on a regular basis, engage Senior Chief Kachindamoto in different projects aimed at establishing a strong sexual reproductive health advocacy structure in the society. She says that different community programmes have been strengthened following the introduction of sexual reproductive health programmes targeting young people by Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) in her area of jurisdiction. Her enviable work with FPAM has helped raise its profile in Malawi and beyond.

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The collaboration of FPAM with local leaders such as Senior Chief Kachindamoto was identified as one of FPAM’s Good Practices during the 3rd Cycle of Accreditation. A Good Practice is an activity or practice that has been proven to work and yields positive results. The sharing of Good Practices by IPPF Member Associations offers learning experiences for their counterparts.

See other Good Practices from our Member Associations:

Mobile Clinics in Cape Verde: Taking Services Closer to the People

Awarding the Best Performing Clinics: Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA)

What’s in a Game? ABUBEF’s use of Playing Cards for Youth SRHR Education

fpamConnect with Family Planning Association of Malawi here.

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