Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Children's Rights Standards and Child Marriage in Malawi

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Children's Rights Standards and Child Marriage in Malawi

Article excerpt


Malawi is one of the top ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage in Africa. (1) The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) revealed that 50 percent of Malawian women aged between twenty and twenty-four years old were married before eighteen years of age. (2) These statistics indicate significant gender disparities between boys and girls in child marriages. In 2015, UNICEF revealed that 23.4 percent of female adolescents were already married or in unions as compared to only 2.2 percent of males in the same age group. (3) This position presumably led to the Human Rights Watch predicting that on average one out of two girls will be married by their eighteenth birthday by 2020. (4) More important to this discussion, a study by the Malawi Human Rights Commission has shown that different cultural practices and rules that regulate marriage, marriageable age, and initiation ceremonies predispose girls to child marriage. (5)

The conclusion of a marriage before the age of eighteen is, according to scholars such as Rita Mutyaba, a fundamental violation of human rights as well as a health hazard to girls. (6) As pointed out by Chatterjee, child marriage robs girls of their survival and development skills that critically prepare them for adulthood life. (7) In addition, Nour also observed that the resultant outcomes of such marriages include high rates of maternal and child mortality, susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, the inability to acquire education, and domestic violence. (8) To sum up, child marriage negatively affects the rights of girls to health, life, education, survival and development, freedom from sexual abuse, dignity and personal integrity, and not to be discriminated against. For these reasons, Cook rightly depicted child marriages not only as a human rights crisis but also as health and social hindrances for girls. (9)

Malawi is party to several international and regional human rights instruments that can address issues of cultural practices that lead to child marriage. (10) In complying with the requirement of enacting legislation as a first step towards the implementation of international standards on the protection of children's rights in general, and child marriage in particular, Malawi's Constitution has a Bill of Rights with specific provisions on children's rights. (11) In addition, Malawi has enacted several pieces of relevant legislation: the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act; the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act; and the Gender Equality Act.

This article critically analyses the above-mentioned national legislative frameworks in addressing the issue of child marriage. The aim is to highlight the compliance or non-compliance of such legislation with international and regional standards on the protection of children, particularly girls, against child marriage. The analysis starts with a brief discussion of the international legal standards that address cultural practices that lead to child marriages and violations of children's rights. (12) Thereafter, we examine Malawi's current legal framework that can be used to address the issue of child marriages. (13) A critical assessment of Malawi's legal response and its compliance with international standards then follows. The last part contains a conclusion in which we recommend that for the national laws to be effective, they must be accompanied by civic education, effective training of different stakeholders, and amendment of out-dated laws. In addition, as proposed by Braimah in the context of Nigeria and child marriages, we also recommend the enactment of a special law that deals with child marriages, for example, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. (14)

International and Regional Law Context on Child Marriage

As pointed out, Malawi is a party to several international and regional human rights instruments that are relevant for measuring its compliance in addressing cultural practices that lead to child marriage. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.