In the southern part of Malawi, Africa, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto has become a marriage terminator. She is the Chief of Dedza district, with a population of approx. 900,000 Malawian people. Since 2003, she has successfully stopped more than 850 child marriages. Chief Kachindamoto has made great efforts protecting, empowering, and ultimately helping the girls to create a healthy community.
Theresa Kachindamoto was the youngest child in a family with 12 siblings. For 27 years, she worked as a secretary at a College in Zomba District in southern Malawi. She married and became the mother of five boys. She claimed she had been chosen because she was “good with people” and was now senior Chief, whether she liked it or not. She accepted the position of chief and returned to Monkey Bay, where she assumed the traditional red robes, beads, and leopard skin headband.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. As per the United Nations Development Program, otherwise known as, UNDP survey, more than 50.7% of the overall population lives below the poverty line. Although being a chief of the area, Theresa had several responsibilities to handle along with the challenges related to food and sustainability. Still, her first most noted, an essential step was to stop child marriage.
Child Marriage in Malawi:
Child marriage is one of the most disturbing trends in the world. More than half of the girls in Malawi had been married before they reach the age of 18. The country is known for having one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world, with particularly high rates in rural areas. Child marriage is damaging to the child and the economic and social progress of the community.
As per the reports available from the United States by the year 2012, more than 50% of the Malawi girls were forced to marry before completing 18 years of their age. It prompted Chief Kachindamoto to take immediate action.
In 2015, Malawi passed a law that forbade marriage before the age of 18. By 2019, Chief Kachindamoto had fired the sub-chiefs involved in the child marriage and had annulled over 3500 child marriages and sent the children back to school. These efforts have also contributed to gender equality in the area.
Chief Kachindamoto told Nyasa Times, “I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school. We have now set our own laws to govern everybody within my area when it comes to marriages and will leave no sacred cow. No child should be found loitering at home, gardening, or doing any household chores during school time. No village head, GVH, or church clergy to officiate marriage before scrutinizing the birth dates of the couple.”
The Chief is aiming to transform a nation and its culture around young girls. She knows it will take time. So she goes door to door, talking to parents. She’s built coalitions and passed by-laws that prohibit early marriage and sexual initiation customs. When faced with severe resistance, she shrugs off death threats, harassment and is unfazed. Chief Kachindamoto says the law is the law, and she won’t back down. She has also stated with a laugh, she is in power and will not be stepping down.