Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief to more than 900,000 people in the Dedza District around Lake Malawi, decided she was tired of seeing twelve-year-old babies getting married and having babies of their own.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,’” Kachindamoto told Al Jazeera.
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 1 out of 2 girls married before the age of 18. In poor regions such as the Dedza District, parents are eager to marry off their young daughters in exchange for dowry and the possibility of lower living expenses.
Other traditions include “kusasa fumbi”—a sexual camp where the young girls are sent as preparation for marriage. These camps reportedly teach girls “how to please men” by introducing unsafe and inappropriate sex acts. According to Kachindamoto, who has since banned these rituals, girls as young as seven years old have been sent to the camps.
Although their daughters were being mistreated and sentenced to lives of hardship, many Malawi parents did not want child marriage banned. Kachindamoto and her revolutionary ideas were met with death threats and criticism. Realizing she couldn’t change the parents’ mindset, Kachindamoto decided to change the law instead.
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” she says.
Kachindamoto and her 50 sub-chiefs signed a new law into effect, abolishing child marriage and annulling any existing inappropriate unions.
In the past three years, Chief Kachindamoto has ended 850 child marriages and sent all involved children back to school.
And it doesn’t look like the Malawi community will be regressing back to their old ways anytime soon. Kachindamoto says, “I’m chief until I die.” One individual—one woman—really does have the power to change the world.
Image via UN Women
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