Malawi: “I’ve never experienced happiness”: Chimwemwe’s story

Chimwemwe’s story was kindly shared by Human Rights Watch and is an excerpt from their report “I’ve never experienced happiness: Child marriage in Malawi”.

Two years ago, when she was 12 years old, Chimwemwe K.* married a 17-year-old boy. She had started a sexual relationship with him when she was 10 because, she said, he gave her money and small gifts, while at home her parents could not afford to buy her clothes or provide enough food. Chimwemwe became pregnant shortly after, and their families forced them to marry.

Chimwemwe said about the marriage: “It was my only solution from poverty, and I was pregnant.”

Chimwemwe today says, “I’ve never experienced happiness in my marriage. I’ve never seen the benefit of being married.” Her husband beats her and she almost died when she was giving birth: “I bled a lot and I was in labor for two days.”

I fear my husband will be arrested and I don’t want to go back to my parents. So I would rather live with him even if he beats me.

Chimwemwe has not reported her husband to the police for the violence because, “I fear my husband will be arrested and I don’t want to go back to my parents. So I would rather live with him even if he beats me.” Chimwemwe has never thought of leaving her abusive husband because, “I cannot manage on my own. Also, if I chase him away I will face stigma from the community.”

Chimwemwe dropped out of school in standard four (equivalent to fourth grade) but says she does not want to go back because “I was not good with books.”

Chimwemwe’s experience reflects a common reality for many girls in Malawi, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. On average, one out of two girls in the country will be married by her eighteenth birthday, according to the United Nations.

In 2010, half of women aged 20 to 24 years were married or in union before they were 18.  Some are as young as 9 or 10 when they are married.

* The name in this story has been changed to protect the girl’s identity.