Malawi has been recommended as exemplary in ending child marriages in the recent African Union (AU) Compendium of Marriage Laws. The recommendation was made at the just ended 4th African Union (AU) High Level Panel on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In the compendium, Malawi is listed among the eighteen countries in Africa who have signed new laws; conducted marriage law reforms; and are proposing new laws putting the minimum age for marriage at 18 years and above for boys and girls.
The Secretary for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Dr. Esmie Kainja who represented the Minister at the conference said that the Malawi Constitution Amendment that has harmonised the minimum age of marriage to 18 was key in the fight against child marriages.
The meeting which was held under the theme “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in the Youth: Empowering Young Women and Girls,” highlighted the need to eliminate child marriages as one way to achieve the demographic dividend.
Kainja said that Malawi believes that gender equality which is essential to achieve the demographic dividend can be realised through the elimination of child marriages. She added that Malawi is on the verge of transitioning from a youthful to a middle aged productive population and that the demographic dividend only becomes a reality when the fertility rate decline.
She further said that women and girls are victims of high fertility rate because of early marriages and pregnancies estimated at 50%, high illiteracy rate at 40% which is a problem since 80% of Malawians cannot read and write English whilst most family planning messages are in English.
“Malawi just like other countries in the region, realises that investing in young women and girls has multiplier socio-economic returns in development. It is therefore my deep conviction that Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a vehicle for achieving demographic dividends and sustainable economic growth and development,” Kainja said.
She however noted that harmful cultural and social norms remain strong despite strides over the past two years and that there are challenges to provide financial support for girls who have been removed from child marriages and are re-admitted into schools.
“These challenges are compounded by poverty; high illiteracy levels among parents; few role models for young women and girls; harmful cultural beliefs and practices such as initiation ceremonies that expose girls and young women to unsafe sex and exploitation by adults; slow implementation and dissemination of legal and policy instruments; lack of scaling up of community best practices on ending child marriages; long distances to schools; and inadequate sanitation facilities for adolescent girls and limited employment opportunities for the young women who are graduating from schools and colleges,” she said.
Kainja also said that to address gender inequality government has among other initiatives such as the HeForSHe Campaign led by The State President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, as the Global HeforShe Champion and Champion for Higher Education in Africa which will play a key role in the fight against gender inequality and the elimination of child marriages in Malawi.
The 4th African Union (AU) High Level Panel on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was held from 29th to 30th June 2017.