Theresa Kachindamoto, senior chief in the Dedza District in Central Malawi, is certainly a force to reckon with. She has not only been able to establish a new law to prevent child marriage, she is also very dedicated to enforcing it!
From the moment Kachindamoto became senior chief, she immediately set about ending the practise of child marriage among her people.
Though illegal, the practice has been culturally accepted in the area. Many families, usually out of financial need, had consented to having their children married off very young.
According to Al Jazeera, Kachindamoto decided to take a stand and made 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority. “I told them, ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.’” She said.
But that was not all, Kachindamoto made the leaders annul any existing underage unions, and send all of the children involved back to school and swore to dismiss any chiefs that continue to allow these controversial practices. “First it was difficult, but now people are understanding,” she told Al Jazeera.
To ensure all children have a chance to go to school, Kachindamoto operates a secret network of parents to keep an eye on others. And when parents can’t afford to pay school fees, she’ll pay them herself or find someone else who can.
“I don’t want child marriages. They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.” Chief Kachindamoto told U.N. Women.
In June alone, she annulled more than 300 child marriages, according to the organization. And over the past three years, the figure reaches close to 850.
She also abolished “kusasa fumbi”, a cleansing ritual that requires girls as young as seven to go to sexual initiation camps in order to train them to perform sex acts to please their future husbands.
Kachindamoto received death threats for her work, but simply said: “I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school.”
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with an alarming one in two girls married under age 18. Marrying underage negatively affects girls’ development, interrupting their education and putting them at higher risk of domestic violence and early pregnancy.
“I talk to the parents, I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.” she said to U.N. Women last year.