Children speak their mind on child marriage
If children in Malawi were to make and pass laws regarding their protection and wellbeing, top of the list would be very strict and absolute laws against child marriage. Every person that contravened the laws would be dealt with ‘stiff penalties’ including going to prison for ‘a very long time’. In effect, no child marriages would exist in Malawi. This is what children in Mwanza and Neno district revealed when they conducted a children’s parliament session hosted by Save the Children.
District children’s parliament was a platform for children to have a collective voice and express opinions about issues obstructing their growth and wellbeing and be advocates for their own rights. For children living in Mwanza and Neno districts it was a chance to speak out on child marriage.
Statistics by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicate that in developing countries one in three girls is married before the age of 18 and one in nine before age of 15. In Malawi nearly 50 percent of girls marry before 18 years, impeding their education and other opportunities. For many of these girls the marriages are forced.
A definitive law against child marriage in Malawi came into effect in 2017 when the constitution was amended and outlawed marriage for persons below the age of 18. The district children parliamentarians in Mwanza and Neno feel that despite this law, parent’s guardians and chiefs are still violating the law.
Child parliamentarian, Thandiwe 11 moved the motion on child marriage. She criticized chiefs for their laxity in punishing parents that force their underage children to marry.
“I stand in this house to say that it is not enough for chiefs to demand bad parents to give goats when they violate this law. They must send them to the police”, she said. She was seconded by other child parliamentarians who condemned chiefs for benefiting from the fines (goats and other livestock) they collect from parents found guilty of violating the law.
Save the Children director for child protection and child poverty Stanley Phiri, described the sessions as a tool to empower children to raise their voices and influence policy and decision makers at all levels.
“Children are the experts of their own issues and must therefore be given a chance to frame responses to their issues”, he said. At the events which were attended by multi-level government officials, local leaders, civil society and the media, Save the Children asked government to consider developing a national framework and guidelines for child participation to inform all stakeholders.
Chief Director in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Chimwemwe Banda applauded the children for being bold and speaking out on issues that affect them.
“Gone are the days when we elders sit in our offices and decide for you, want to do things for you, plan for you and budget for you. It is high time for children to speak their mind”, she said.
The district children’s parliament sessions were held under the theme ‘Creating Enabling Space and Opportunity for Meaningful Children’s Participation in August 2017. 50 children from each of the two districts participated in the sessions that were conducted for two days respectively.
By Lindiwe Bandazi, Advocacy Coordinator