Malawi is a little country tucked away in East Africa, surrounded by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. The country is rich in its cultural values and beliefs which is ingrained in the inception of its people. Granted, it is a country which may seem unheard of, or lesser known amongst people, but it is led by a powerhouse woman who came into power and changed the game.
For years, little girl children in Malawi were handed over in marriage and advised to bear multiple children. As such, the country, in addition to being one of the poorest in the world, also had the highest rate of child marriages globally. The practice of the country allowed girls as young as seven to undergo sexually assaulting cleansing practices, and initiation camps in order to prepare them for marriage. It was as if the sole purpose of birthing females was to marry them so they could bear children.
While this practice continued for years, things changed when Theresa Kachindamoto was appointed as the Chief of the district in 2003, nearly two decades ago. Chief Kachindamoto is the youngest of twelve siblings, and a mother of five boys. She worked as secretary in a college in Southern Malawi before her appointment as senior Chief of the District.
As soon as she gained power, she implemented regulations banning marriages before the age of 18. However, customary law stemming from tradition opposed this and stated that child marriages could take place as long as the parents agreed. When Chief Kachindamoto failed in transforming mindsets, she placed 50 sub-chiefs in various regions to ensure that no child marriages took place in their area of rule. As of 2019, she had managed to annul over 3,500 marriages of children that were below the age of 18.
“I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school. We have now set our own laws to govern everybody within my area when it comes to marriages and will leave no sacred cow. … No child should be found loitering at home; gardening or doing any household chores during school time. No village head, or church clergy to officiate marriage before scrutinizing the birth dates of the couple.” said Chief Kachindamoto in an interview.
Her work has gained her international recognition and praise for her efforts, titling her as the terminator of child marriages. In addition to this recognition, she has also attained the satisfaction of ensuring that all children are properly educated in Malawi without the pressure of being married at an early age.
While this was quite the challenge for Chief Kachindamoto, especially because these marriages did not take place according to civil law, but were conducted under the regulation of the chiefs of customary law, and with the full agreement of the parents as well as the ones getting married, but after nearly two decades of unwavering effort, Chief Kachindamoto is now able to ensure that majority of the children attend schools with proper education for girls too.