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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Malawi has the 12th highest prevalence of child marriage globally.
Child marriage is common among all ethnic groups, and across all three regions of Malawi, although rates are slightly higher in rural areas of southern Malawi. UN Women has identified hotspots for child marriage in the Karonga district in the Northern region, and Mulanje, Mangochi, Machimba and Zomba, in the Southern region.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Ethiopia could generate a 10% rise in earnings for women who married early, and up to USD 167 million in additional earnings and productivity for the whole country.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Malawi, child marriage is also driven by:
- Poverty: Half of the population in Malawi live below the national poverty line. Some poorer families marry off their daughters to reduce their perceived financial burden or to offer them a better life. Some girls are exchanged during Kupimbira – a form of debt repayment – in the northern part of the country. Human Rights Watch reports that some parents force their daughters to have sex with men in order to receive money or food.
- Harmful traditional practices: The chinamwali or nsondopuberty rite of passage can act as a catalyst to child marriage. Among ethnic groups in northern Malawi, lobola – bride price – signifies the creation of an alliance between families, and representatives from both sides negotiate the terms of a marriage through a mediator. Human Rights Watch reports that some girls are thrown out of their homes if they refuse to marry.
- Adolescent pregnancy: Malawi’s traditions and patriarchal culture encourage early sexual initiation, while renounces pregnancy outside of matrimony. In a 2017 ICRW study, 87% of respondents said that child marriage happens because of pregnancy and 93% agreed that unmarried girls who get pregnant are “naughty”. The “defilement” or rape of a girls can also initiate a child marriage, particularly when the sexual abuse results in pregnancy. Girls are married off to avoid bringing dishonour to their families. One traditional leader was quoted saying that unmarried pregnant girls are labelled as “disabled”.
- Limited awareness: Many girls in Malawi do not know their rights under the law or where to look for assistance when faced with child marriage. A 2017 study shows that only 8% of girls in Malawi are able to list at least three harmful effects of child marriage.
- Lack of opportunities: In a 2017 ICRW study, 77% of respondents said that child marriage happens in Malawi because of a lack of education or job opportunities for girls. Girls may see early marriage as a way out of poverty or violent family situations.
- Boarding: A 2015 shadow report to CEDAW highlights that schools with a lack of boarding facilities force some girls to self-board in nearby houses, where they sometimes end up marrying men in exchange for money.
What has this country committed to?
Malawi has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Malawi co-sponsored the following Human Rights Council resolutions: the 2017 resolution on recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2019 resolution on the consequences of child marriage. In 2014, Malawi also signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Malawi acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1987, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2017, the UN Child Rights Committee urged Malawi to take all measures necessary to eliminate child marriages, including by developing comprehensive awareness-raising campaigns and programmes on the harmful effects of child marriage and providing appropriate financial resources.
During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Malawi supported recommendations to ensure successful implementation of strategies and legal reforms to end child marriage.
In 1999 Malawi ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2005 Malawi ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
In 2014, Malawi launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
Malawi is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the Government of Malawi committed to end child marriage and delay first pregnancy among girls (10-19 years) by 2030, by effectively enforcing laws, coordinating policy making, and promoting national prevention awareness and advocacy campaigns as part of a wider programme to target all forms of violence against women, girls and boys.
Malawi is one of the countries where the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between European Union and United Nations) is supporting efforts to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. Combating child marriage is one of the key focus areas of the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi.
Malawi is also one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
Malawi partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
In March 2018, First Lady Gertrude Mutharika urged all Malawians to be part of the solution to end child marriage.
In 2018, the Government of Malawi launched the Strategy of Adolescent Girls and Young Women, developed with support of UNICEF and public and private stakeholders. The strategy has a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to empower girls and young women, and improve their health, education, gender equality, and economic empowerment outcomes. Adolescent mothers are among the identified group of vulnerable adolescents.
The National Plan of Action for Vulnerable Children in Malawi identifies child marriage as an effect of vulnerability. It calls for measures to protect children from being married off and envisions activities to raise awareness in the communities.
The National Plan of Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi 2014-2020 includes several targets related to child marriage, including producing and disseminating local language awareness-raising materials and supporting traditional leaders to end child marriage.
Traditional leaders play a key role in ending harmful cultural practices such as child marriage. Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, a prominent Ngoni Chief in the Central region of Malawi, has been a vocal advocate on the issue of child marriage and has contributed to the achievement of legislative changes. During her chieftainship, Chief Theresa has annulled more than 2500 child marriages.
Plan International and Malawian young people have been working with a taskforce of government bodies, advocates, traditional authorities, religious leaders and teachers calling for Malawi’s constitution to be reformed. In 2016, young campaigners presented the First Lady of Malawi with a petition signed by people from over 30 countries.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Constitution and the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill No. 5 (2015), the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years with no exceptions.
In 2017, the Parliament voted to amend the Constitution to make child marriage illegal and remove a provision that allowed children to marry at 15 with parental consent.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
National Partnership in Malawi
Girls Not Brides Malawi is the official Girls Not Brides National Partnership in Malawi.
Members In Malawi
- African Network for Protection and Prevention of Child abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) Malawi
- Amref Health Africa
- Center for Youth Development and Transformation
- Centre for Children’s Affairs (CEAF)
- Centre for Community and Youth Development (CCYD)
- Centre for Community Relief and Development (CECORD)
- Centre for Conflict Management and Women Development Affairs
- Centre for Girls and Interaction (CEGI)
- Centre for Social Concern and Development (CESOCODE)
- Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (CEYCA)
- Chinansi Foundation (CHIFO)
- Chipembere Community Development Organisation (CCDO)
- Chitani Community Sustainable Development Organization (CHICOSUDO)
- Christian Youth Association of Malawi (CYAMA)
- Coalition for the Empowerment of Women and Girls (CEWAG)
- Community Forum Organization (COFO)
- Community Initiative for Social Empowerment (CISE)
- Development Concept
- Development Initiative Network
- Extra Mile Development Foundation (EMDEF)
- Family Planning Association of Malawi
- Forum for Concerned Young People (FOCO-YOPE)
- Forum for the Development of Youth with Disabilities (FDYD)
- Foundation for Children’s Rights
- Foundation for Community and Capacity Development (FOCCAD)
- Foundation for Youth Empowerment
- Fountain of Hope
- Girl Rising Malawi
- Girls Empowerment Network (GENET Malawi)
- God Cares Orphan Organisation
- Holy Heart Centre for Abused Women And Children
- Hope for Relief Organisation Malawi (HfRM)
- Journalists Association against AIDS (JournAIDS)
- Kachila Youth Initiative (KAYI)
- Karonga Girls With A Vision (KGWV)
- Ladder for Rural Development
- Life Concern
- Link Education International
- Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (MANERELA+)
- Meaningful Action on HIV/AIDS Support Network Association (MASUNA)
- Native Youth Animators for Development (NYADE)
- Organisation of African Youth
- Outreach Scout Foundation (OSF)
- Passion for Women and Children (PAWOC)
- People Serving Girls at Risk
- Plan International
- Population Management Challenge
- Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)
- Rural Education Support and Rehabilitation Unit (RESARU)
- Solidarity of Refugee Women for the Social Welfare (SOFERES)
- Sustainable Rural Community Development Organisation
- Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture (TAWINA)
- Theatre for a Change
- Tingathe Development Forum (TIDEF)
- Ukhondo Services Foundation (USEF)
- Umodzi Youth Organization (UYO)
- Urunji Child Care Trust
- VSO International
- Women In Development (WID)
- World Fit for Children (WOFIC)
- Young Africa (YA)
- Youth Arm Organisation
- Youth Coalition for the Consolidation of Democracy (YCD)
- Youth Initiative for Change and Development (YCD)
- Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO)