Malawi has made gigantic strides to end child marriage in the past couple of years. In 2015, the country passed the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, raising the age of child marriage to 18 years. But there was a loophole in the constitution – meaning girls as young as 15 could get married with parental consent.
This year, Parliament voted unanimously to amend the constitution and harmonise the laws – an achievement that many thought would be impossible just a year ago. Girls Not Brides members in Malawi – many of whom are part of the Malawi Partnership to End Child Marriage, the group - played a key role in securing these successes, as did parliamentarians, UN agencies and influential champions, including the Head of State. So, what needs to happen now?
Coordination is the golden rule
As in many countries, coordinating civil society and others’ efforts to end child marriage is a challenge. This is where the Malawi Partnership to End Child Marriage comes in.
Made up of over 70 civil society members, all addressing child marriage from different angles, this inclusive group can play a crucial role in promoting coordination across the country. We can support the government to ensure that responses are joined-up, comprehensive and do not duplicate each other.
In June 2017, members came together to adopt our strategic plan and commit to increase efforts to ending child marriage in the country by strengthening communication, co-ordination and sharing best practices between a wide range of civil society organisations – from grassroots actors to international NGOs.
Demystify what it means to work across sectors
Addressing child marriage effectively requires all of us to think beyond our sectors. It means developing partnerships and alliances across the board – between and among government ministries and departments, the UN, donors and civil society. It requires leaving our comfort zones.
So how do we go about this? Malawi is ahead of the game in this regard, having committed in 2016 to develop a strategy for Adolescent Girls and Young Women. The strategy gives a framework for government and civil society to secure the rights of adolescent girls and young women – be it to education, employment, health, protection and participation. Other countries could learn a lot from this process, which means that we need to capture what we learn along the way and share it widely.
Put married girls at the centre
We cannot let married girls fall through the net. Malawi needs a stronger, coordinated response that meets the needs of married girls. All too often, girls are ‘withdrawn’ from marriages without viable alternatives, such as access to education, child care and economic support. There are far too many cases of girls returning to abusive relationships – and this needs to stop.
Filling research gaps
Whatever happens next must be based upon a robust evidence base. There is still work to do in Malawi to fill in research gaps around child marriage, what drives the practice and what works to end it. Donors must fund strong programme evaluations and we need a better idea of where the child marriage ‘hotspots’ in the country are.
Give more power to the Ministries
As is often the case in other countries, in Malawi the Ministry of Gender leads in coordinating the response to child marriage. Yet, their funding allocations are insignificant, amounting to less than half a percent of the national budget. They are doing good work despite their shoestring budget – just imagine what more they could do if they had adequate resources to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of girls at risk of and affected by child marriage.
For more stats and info on child marriage in Malawi, visit our country profile.
This story relates to Goal A "Governments" of Girls Not Brides' 2017-2020 strategy. The goal is about ensuring governments take action to address child marriage in their countries, with the active participation of civil society and other stakeholders. Find out more.
In the time it has taken to read this article 39 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds
The authors are the coordinators of the Malawi Partnership to End Child Marriage.