Malawi Parliament adopts amendment to end child marriage

The country with one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world has taken a major step to end the practice by adopting a constitutional amendment on 14 February that raises the minimum age of marriage to 18 years.

Date: 22 February 2017

On 14 February, the Malawi Parliament took a landmark decision towards advancing gender equality by banning child marriage in the country. The Parliament unanimously adopted a constitutional amendment that raises the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years, for both girls and boys. The amendment aligns the Constitution with the 2015 Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act enacted by the Parliament.

UN Women played a pivotal role in lobbying for an end to the discriminatory practice. UN Women Malawi provided support during the constitutional review process, carried out key consultations for the reform, and mobilized other UN Agencies to collaborate with the Ministry of Justice & Constitutional Affairs (MOJACA) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), to ensure an inclusive and participatory process.

Malawi has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, with half its girls married before the age of 18 [1] and teen pregnancies contributing to 20-30 per cent of maternal deaths in the country [2]. The practice of child marriage condemns girls to a vicious cycle of poverty. They are forced to miss out on education (in Malawi, only 45 per cent of girls remain in school past the 8th grade [3]), are rendered more vulnerable to violence, and forced to bear children before they are physically and mentally prepared.

“By changing the constitutional age of marriage in Malawi, the Government has also changed the narrative of the lives of countless Malawian girls so that girls can just be girls; not brides or wives,” said Clara Mah Anyangwe, UN Women Country Representative in Malawi. “This amendment has come at the right time, so that the Malawian girls and boys are not left behind. Malawi is exercising its political will by protecting the sanctity of childhood,” she added.

The new reform aligns the Constitution with Malawi’s international and regional obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and others, including the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality.

Going forward, UN Women will continue to partner with civil society networks to change discriminatory attitudes among both lawmakers and the public to ensure effective implementation of the new law. UN Women will also support the Ministry of Gender and Justice to harmonize the new Constitutional Amendment Bill and the various pieces of discriminatory legislation against women and girls. 

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Notes

[1] UNICEF (2016). Access the data from https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/

[2] UNICEF (2013). Child Marriages: 39,000 Every Day. Available from https://www.unicef.org/media/media_68114.html

[3] UNICEF (2013) UNICEF Malawi Annual Report 2013. Available from https://www.unicef.org/malawi/MLW_resources_annualreport2013.pdf