New Report: Malawi’s Government Must Act to End Child Marriage
Thursday, March 13, 2014 9:40 AM

The government of Malawi, where fifty percent of girls are married by their 18th birthday, must implement comprehensive reforms in order to contain the harms caused by widespread child marriage. This call for action arises from a Human Rights Watch report that documents how child marriage violates the rights of Malawian girls and women by harming their health; limiting their access to education; subjecting them to physical, mental, and sexual violence; and denying them the right to marry only when they are able and willing to give free and full consent.
The report, “I’ve Never Experienced Happiness”: Child Marriage in Malawi, is based largely on interviews with 80 girls and women in southern and central Malawi. Girls told of being pressured to marry because they were pregnant or because family members were eager to receive dowry payments. Some girls who rejected forced marriages said they were threatened, abused, or thrown out of their homes by their families. Others said they were verbally abused or physically assaulted by their husbands and in-laws. Many of the interviewees said that they could not return to school after marriage because of factors such as lack of child care, lack of flexible school programs, or because their husbands or in-laws would not allow them to return.
Human Rights Watch concluded that Malawi’s existing laws and policies do not adequately protect women’s and girls’ rights. Significantly, Malawi’s laws do not explicitly prohibit child marriage, and there is no set minimum age of marriage. In order to protect girls from child and forced marriage, HRW recommends that Malawi’s government take several steps, including: enact and enforce the pending Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill, which has strong protections against child and forced marriage and sets 18 as the minimum marriage age; enact the pending Education bill and prioritize implementing the provision on compulsory education including for girls; and conduct training for law enforcement officials on their legal responsibilities to investigate and prosecute violence against women, including child marriage.
Compiled from: “I’ve Never Experienced Happiness”: Child Marriage in Malawi, Human Rights Watch (2014); Malawi: End Widespread Child Marriage, Human Rights Watch (Mar. 6, 2014).