Unfortunately, not every little girl can dream of the most important day in her life, when she would get married to the love of her life. In Malawi, it is a common practice to separate small girls from their families and to force them to marry someone they haven’t even met.
Can you imagine the shock and the trauma such an event can cause?
Malawi is the poorest country in the world, located in the southeast region of Africa. In underdeveloped areas, these traditions are common. In 2012, the world was devastated to learn that half of the girls were sent away by their parents to marry before they turn 18.
In 2015, a law was passed, which forbade men to marry minor girls, but it did not put an end to such marriages, as the families agree to send the girls in order to help them live with less financial problems.
What’s more, minor girls are sent to sexual initiation camps as soon as they get their first period, and there, they learn of their “duties”, and behaviors that could please their men sexually. They are encouraged to have sexual intercourses, which leads to too many pregnancies and HIV.
Yet, this was just too much for Theresa Kachindamoto, a senior chief in the Dedza district of Malawi.
According to Al Jazeera:
“Thirteen years ago, Theresa Kachindamoto could not have conceived of ever leaving her job of 27 years as a secretary at a city college in Zomba, another district in Southern Malawi.
She had no desire to return home to Monkey Bay, a stunning cluster of mountains in Dedza District around Lake Malawi. Although she had the blood of chiefs — Malawi’s traditional authority figures — running through her veins, as the youngest of 12 siblings, a woman, and a mother of five, Kachindamoto never expected to become a senior chief to the more than 900,000 people.
But when the chiefs called, she says, they told her to pack her bags and go home to Dedza district, as she had been chosen as the next senior chief. She was told that she had been chosen because she was “good with people”, and that she was now the chief, “whether I liked it or not”, she recalls.
Kachindamoto duly donned the traditional beads, red robes, and a leopardskin headband, and started touring the rows of mud-walled, grass-thatched homes to meet her people.”
From the very first day, she was shocked by this tradition and decided to take action and make a change.
“Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.”
She met with 50 of her sub-chief and made them sign an agreement that puts an end to child marriage.
In the areas she was in charge of, minor girls could not get married anymore. She even fired four male chiefs who did the opposite of the agreement, and banned and shut down the sexual initiation camps. She managed to annul 850 child marriages and sent the girls back to school.
These efforts were not welcomed by everyone, and at first, people told her that she didn’t have the right to mess with tradition. Yet, she was determined:
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said, whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school.”
She emphasized the importance of education:
“First of all it was difficult, but now people are understanding. If they are educated, they can be and have whatever they want.”
Her hard work and vision inspired many, as she did the right thing, and provided a better life for the girls in her country, even though she had to fight tradition to succeed in it.
“I want these girls to be educated because in the future they will take care of us.”- she added.