For Memory, 20, the issue of child marriage hits close to home.
“When my little sister was just 11 years old, she was forced to marry a man who got her pregnant,” she says.
“At the time, I was young, and thought this was normal. But I quickly realized the devastating impact it had on her when she was further abused in the marriage.”
Memory’s sister, like many girls in Malawi, was married far too young, and with little choice in the matter. The small southeast African country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with approximately 1 in 2 girls married by the age of 18.
“Child marriage is devastating for a young girl,” says Memory. “This means the end of an education, the girl will have no say in terms of body rights, or the choice to make children, and she will always be dependent on her husband.”
Motivated by her sister’s story, Memory joined an incredible group of youth campaigners, supported by Plan International, who have been challenging government to outlaw the practice of child marriage in Malawi.
Youth Spark A wave of change
In 2015, the youth campaigners secured a huge victory when parliament increased the minimum age for marriage in Malawi from 15 to 18 years. However, the new law was undermined by the country’s constitution, and it contained a provision that allowed children to be married from age 16 with a parent’s consent.
So, the youth got back to work and began a global petition to amend this constitutional loophole.
The petition received over 42,000 signatures from people in over 30 different countries, and it was formally presented to the First Lady of Malawi in 2016.
Then in February 2017, after months of rallying and deliberation, a historic constitutional amendment was announced – the practice of child marriage was fully outlawed in Malawi, and the legal loophole was removed.
“This is a momentous change for future generations of Malawi,” says Lilly Omondi, Country Director for Plan International Malawi. “We are so pleased that young people have played a huge part in this success.”
And Memory couldn’t agree more.
“We [the youth] worked with the government to amend the constitution of our country to help end child marriage – once and for all” she says.
A huge victory for girls’ rights
Without child marriage, girls can realize their rights to decide their own futures.
They will be better protected against sexual abuse, trafficking, and physical and emotional violence. In addition, the new laws will reduce teen pregnancies and the adolescent maternal mortality rate, enabling girls to stay in school – where they belong!