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Girls help secure child marriage ban in Malawi

Following a year-long campaign, Plan International Malawi, youth groups and NGOs have helped secure a ban on child marriage.

Memory helped achieve a ban on child marriage in Malawi
Youth advocate Memory has been working with the government to end child marriage in Malawi.

When 19-year-old Memory Banda’s younger sister was just 11, she became pregnant and was forced to marry the father of her unborn child.

“At the time, I was young, and thought this was normal,” Memory recalls. “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.”

Girls like Memory’s sister will hopefully never have to suffer the injustice of child marriage again. Thanks to the highly successful campaign involving young campaigners like Memory, Malawi has fully outlawed child marriage.

Fighting for girls' right to childhood

Ending child, early and forced marriage by 2030 is part of goal 5 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Plan International works to ensure that the promises of the Global Goals are realised for girls by helping them to change laws, and in Malawi we have been supporting campaign groups like Memory’s.

We are so pleased that young people have played a huge part in this success.

“We are so pleased that young people have played a huge part in this success,” says Lily Omondi, country director at Plan International Malawi.

When their campaign first began in March 2015, young people could legally get married as young as 15 with parental consent. Malawi had the ninth highest rate of child marriage in the world, with approximately half of the country’s girls marrying by the age of 18, according to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2016.

Youth-led action

The young people decided to push for an amendment to Malawi’s marriage act that would change the minimum age of consent to 18. Their key priority was gaining the support of the First Lady of Malawi, Gertrude Mutharika, so that she would champion the idea.

After hosting an event where she officially became their goodwill ambassador, and by sharing a video in which she pledged to uphold children’s rights with the world’s media, the First Lady declared her support for the young campaigners.

The campaigners also increased awareness of the devastating impact of child marriage by holding regular meetings with MPs and traditional leaders. And they ran a national television, radio and print media campaign to reach community members, such as parents and chiefs, using tailored key messages to target different audiences.

Memory and Rosby present petition to First Lady
Memory, 19, and Rosby, 18, present the petition to the First Lady of Malawi.

In 2015, a bill was passed by the Malawian government that raised the minimum age of marriage to 18. While this was an important advance in girls’ rights, the country’s constitution still allowed for under-18s to get married as long as there was parental consent.

So the young people turned their attentions to calling for an amendment to fully outlaw the practice. In September last year, with support from Plan International, they organised at a National Girls’ Conference and presented the First Lady with a petition to make child marriage illegal. It had more than 42,000 signatures from more than 30 countries worldwide.

In February 2017, the amendments the campaigners were hoping for was voted through by the country’s parliament. Malawian Parliamentarians voted 131 to 2 in favour of removing this provision.

“For the relevant ministers and other decision-makers to hear from young people themselves was crucial to the process,” says Omondi. “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.”

Learn more about our work helping children find their voice and exercise their rights as citizens.