If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation – Dr. James Aggrey.
When we hear of superheroes, we think of striking costumes with prominent symbols on their chest, with masks and capes of all kinds. But superheroes do not just exist in Marvel and DC comics, they exist in real life as well and as far as modern heroes, Theresa Kachindamoto is right there, at the top.
Born in Dedza District, Theresa Kachindamoto had been working as a secretary for twenty-seven years in another district when the chiefs called her and told her she had been selected by her people to lead them .
Child Marriage in Malawi
Upon her return, she was dismayed to meet girls as young as 12 years old with children and husbands. This prompted her into swift action. She ordered 50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement ending child marriages in Dedza District.
All Talk and All Action
When some of the sub-chiefs continued to approved such marriages, she suspended them until they annulled the unions and complied fully with the new law.
“I have terminated 330 marriages, yes, of which 175 were girl-wives and 155 were boy-fathers. I wanted them to go back to school and that has worked,” Kachindamoto says.
She’s also hired a network of “secret mothers and fathers” in order to make sure that compliance is enforced .
While some applauded her efforts, others kicked against it, with some telling her she had no right to overturn tradition. But despite death threats and protest from some of the parents against Kachindamoto’s actions, she isn’t deterred .
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” she says.
Custom vs Law
Recently, Malawi passed a law making marriages under the age of 18 illegal but parental consent continues to create a loophole since children could still be married with parental consent.
Poverty, an intrinsic factor
Despite warnings about the dangers of early marriage and childbirth, many parents who can’t afford to feed and house their daughters go on to marry them off in order to ease their financial burdens.
For these girls, Kachindamoto finds ways to pay for their schooling.
Kachindamoto also takes a hard stance against kusasa fumbi, or sexual cleansing, threatening to dismiss any chief who sanctions this practice which, trains young girls to perform sexual acts to please their future husbands.
- “Female Chief Comes To Power, Annuls 850 Child Marriages And Sends Girls Back To School“, Relieved. May, 2019.
- “Malawi’s fearsome chief, terminator of child marriages“, Aljazeera. May, 2016.
- “Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school“, Medium, @boazabel. January, 2019.
- “Health consequences of child marriage in Africa. Emerging infectious diseases“, PMC. November, 2006.
- “The timing and role of initiation rites in preparing young people for adolescence and responsible sexual and reproductive behavior in Malawi“, PMC. May, 2008.