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Malawi votes for constitutional amendment to outlaw child marriage

Malawi votes for constitutional amendment to outlaw child marriage

Malawi has made an historic amendment to its constitution to fully outlaw child marriage following a years-long campaign by NGOs and Malawian young people.

The historic amendment, voted through by the Malawian Parliament on Tuesday (14 February) removes a legal loophole which has allowed some children to marry with parental consent. Malawian Parliamentarians voted 131 to two votes in favour of removing this provision.

A campaign to totally outlaw the practice, partially driven by Malawian young people supported by children’s rights NGO Plan International, has now helped to secure a better future for millions of Malawian girls.

Memory Banda, 19, one of the young people who has led the campaign, speaks from experience: “When my little sister was just eleven, she was forced to marry the man who got her pregnant.

“At the time, I was young, and thought this was normal. But I quickly realised the devastating impact it had on her when she was further abused in marriage.

“When she came home, I saw the person who had been my little sister wasn’t my little sister anymore.

“Now, together with a team of young campaigners supported by Plan International, we’ve worked with the government to amend the constitution of our country to help end child marriage – once and for all.”

As of 2015, Malawi had ninth highest rate of child marriage in the world. The practice is technically already prohibited by law in Malawi, having been banned in 2015 with the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Law, which increased the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18.

But in spite of this important step, the Constitution contains a legal loophole that still allows children between 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent.

Alongside a taskforce of the government bodies, advocates, activists, public officers, traditional authorities, politicians, religious leaders, and teachers, young people have been fighting for their rights, calling for the constitution to be changed and the harmful practice legally ended once and for all. The work of the young people, supported by Plan International UK, was funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development.

Lilly Omondi, Country Director for Plan International Malawi said: “This is a momentous change for future generations of Malawi – and we are so pleased that young people have played a huge part in this success.

“For the relevant ministers and other decision-makers to hear from young people themselves was crucial to the process. By ensuring that they have had their voices heard, these young people have helped to secure the health and happiness of millions of Malawian girls to come.”

The campaign has been building support for some time. In September last year, young campaigners joined representatives from Plan International at a National Girls’ Conference and presented the First Lady of Malawi a petition expressing global solidarity with the young campaigners. The petition had over 42,000 signatures from more than 30 countries worldwide.