This news has been long awaited, after many years of campaigning, parliament voted to change the constitution on February 14th. Now, Malawi President Peter Mutharika has signed a constitutional amendment raising the legal marriage age to 18. Previously girls as young as 15 years old were able to get married with consent from parents. However, thankfully now this is considered illegal and it will prevent many child marriages from happening.
According to research, Malawi has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriages. A government survey found that 47 percent of women and girls are married before the age of 18 and these child marriages have contributed to a high rate of death in mothers and babies.
“That amendment is showing exactly the aspiration of Malawians that we are saying ‘No’ in totality to child marriage and the loopholes that were remaining of giving consents to parents are no longer there,” said Jessie Kabwila, chairperson of women’s caucus in parliament.
Although this change to the constitution is a huge deal and it is a step forward to change, child rights advocate say that enforcing the law could be difficult because of all the background factors that put young girls in child marriages in the first place. They state “enforcing the law will be difficult unless the government also addresses the poverty that drives families to marry off their young daughters. Some families cannot afford school fees for girls, or simply have too many mouths to feed.”
This amended law also states “any person who enters into a marriage ceremony knowing the marriage is invalid or illegal commits an offense punishable by a fine of $143 and five years’ imprisonment.”