Malawi is alandlocked southeast Africa country which is administratively dividedinto three regions namely; southern, central and northern. Malawi is bordered by Zambia to thenorthwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on theeast, south and west. Malawi is over 118,000 km2 with anestimated population of 18,091,575 with over 43 percent of thepopulation being aged 0 to 14 years and 46 percent aged 15-49. About 70 percent of the totalpopulation is aged 30 years and less, therefore making Malawi a youngpopulation1.Malawi’s economyis heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population of 83.
7%2. Malawiis among the world’s least- developed countries and is faced by manydevelopmental challenges with nearly 53% of the inhabitants living below thepoverty line3.Theharmful traditional practice of child marriage remains one of the mainchallenges towards the full realization and enjoyment of children’s rights inMalawi just like in many African countries4.Many countries in thesub-Saharan Africa, such as Malawi, are faced with the problem of childmarriage which has been recorded as high as 40% of the women being married aschildren. Some of these countries including Malawi have a substantive legalframework that affords protection and prohibits the harmful practice of childmarriage.
However, child marriages remain prevalent in Malawi with the countryhaving the highest rates of child marriage in the world with approximately one out of two girls in the country being married byher eighteenth birthday, according to the United Nations. In the year 2010,half of women aged 20 to 24 years were married or in union before they were 18years. Some of these girls are as young as 9 or 10 years of age when they aremarried.
5 Studies done byHuman Rights Watch in Malawi in 2014 and UNICEF in 2016 indicate that marriageat an early age exposes the young girls to many violations; gender basedviolence including domestic and sexual violence. Majority others have gonethrough neglect and abandonment by their husbands who left them to care forchildren without any financial support, thus increasing the likelihood of theirbeing impoverished. The studies also brought out incidences/cases in whichchild marriage also led girls into commercial sexual exploitation and childlabour. Many Malawian communities however see childmarriage as being in the best interests of girls and their families with somefamilies seeing it as an important way to improve their economic status,sometimes through payment of dowry by the groom to the bride’s family, orthrough continued support by their daughter’s husband.
Due to the high level ofpoverty in Malawi, for some girls, marriage may suggest a route, however oftenunfulfilled, to escape this poverty. Malawi’s traditions and patriarchalcultures have deeply entrenched Child marriage practices and also encourageearly sexual initiation and marriage and women’s subordination in society, althoughit stigmatizes adolescent pregnancy. Early Marriage is therefore regarded as ameans of protecting girls who get pregnant from undermining family honour6. The main challenge that has really hindered the fight against childmarriage in Malawi is, these entrenched attitudes that accept and condone thesepractices.The HumanRights Watch further indicates the inherent health risks experienced by thegirls who get married at tender ages associated with early pregnancy, includingmaternal death, obstetric fistula, premature delivery, and anaemia. Theshortage of prenatal and postnatal health care services, especially in Malawi’srural areas, increases these risks.
1Malawi Demographic and Health Survey 2015/162Malawi Demographic Profile 20173UNctad report- Development and Globalisation facts and figures 20174Human Rights Watch 20155UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2016 6Human Rights Watch 2015