By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
LILONGWE, Malawi – A bill that was recently passed in the Malawi legislature allows 16 year olds to marry with parental consent. Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is facing pressure from civil society groups to scrap the bill.
Parliament amended the Constitution. This new legislation is an improvement on the law it replaced which allowed oarental consent to marriage at the age of 15. Clause 9 in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed with over two-thirds support, although some Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the support and the opposition voted against it before it went through.
Article I of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children defines the word “child” as “every human being below the age of 18.” Activists are calling for the minimum age to be raised to 18 while some MPs asked the Minister of Justice to consider changing the marriage age to 18 or even 21.
MP Lifred Nawena said marriage at 16 goes against the government policy of youth education. MP Chimango Mughogho said marriage requires girls to give birth and they are not mature enough at 16.
Minister of Justice Peter Mutharika, however, sees the increase in age as a positive. He will not take a position on the matter saying only that Malawians should decide together how to move forward.
“Eighteen would be fine but 21 might be too old. We could say 18 with parental consent or 21 without, but that is a matter of policy,” he said. “Let the people and all the stakeholders, including boys and girls, debate the issue and agree on whether the marriage age should be 18, 21, or 25 as some people are proposing. After the consensus, the matter will go back to parliament.”
People interviewed after the vote all agree that Parliament could have raised the age to 18 and that it would have been the appropriate age, as it is the minimum age when one can vote and make one’s own decisions.
Gender and children’s rights activists have called on the country’s leadership to protect and ensure girls’ rights not to marry so young to protect them from maternal death. MacBain Mkandawire, Executive Director of NGO Youth Net and Counseling, says mental and physical health will be sacrificed if allowed to marry at 16.
Marriage at 16 is contrary to the government’s policy to educate the youth and reduce maternal deaths.
For more information, please see:
Angola Press – Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 29 August 2009
Catholic Information Service for Africa – Malawi: Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 28 August 2009
Daily Times – Law Commission Defends Marriage Age – 26 August 2009
Africa News – Malawi: Marriage Age Pegged at 16 – 03 August 2009