Malawi’s Chief Theresa Kachindamoto – “The Terminator of Child Marriages”

Malawi’s Chief Theresa Kachindamoto – “The Terminator of Child Marriages”
we are delighted that we could once again keep to our commitment of celebrating an African heroine on every cover page of IWA’s, March edition. Consequently, on this edition, we were privileged to peek into Malawi, a country that is arguably one of the poorest countries in the world, and has an HIV infection rate of 10% of the population. A United Nations survey in 2012 found that more than half of the girls in Malawi were married before they reach 18, and ranked Malawi as having one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world, with particularly high rates in rural areas. Young girls, sometimes as young as seven, are subject to sexually abusive traditions that include sexual initiation camps for kusasa fumbi (cleansing). In 2015, Malawi passed a law that forbade marriage before the age of 18. However, the constitution and the customary law administered by the traditional authorities still say that children can marry if the parents agree.
The main reason we are taking this peek is to celebrate Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, an exceptionally selfless woman who have continued to dedicate her life to fighting this societal menace by dissolving child marriages and insisting on education for girls and boys against all odds. Although, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, is the youngest of twelve siblings in a family of traditional rulers in the Dedza District around Lake Malawi, she was chosen in 2003 by the chiefs of Dedza as the paramount chief, or Inkosi, of the Dedza, a position which has given her informal authority over more than 900,000 people.
Chief Kachindamoto is married with five boys. Before accepting the position and returning to Monkey Bay, where she assumed the traditional red robes, beads and leopard skin headband, she had worked as a secretary for 27 years at a College in Zomba District in southern Malawi.
Thankfully, we interviewed her over the telephone, courtesy of our friends in Vital Voices Global Partnership, an American international, non-profit, and non-governmental organization that works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights. Find below extracts of the interview facilitated by this organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., USA.
IWA: Madam, you are globally termed; ‘terminator of child marriages’, what exactly informed your decision to embark on this very laudable mission?
Chief Kachindamoto: My will for women, particularly young girls to fulfil their education is what informed my decision to embark on this mission to terminate child marriages as this was the major stumbling block in our community. The high rate of child marriages meant that the level of poverty in the communities will continue to rise.
IWA: You have been on this mission for a while, can you describe that common line that you see running through the many cases you have being faced with?
Chief Kachindamoto: The common line that I see in majority of these cases is that the decision for children to be married off at an early age is due to the poverty within the households and because parents feel through the marriage process they will receive resources such as cattle or other assets to better their lot, so the decision to marry them off is made easier for them.
IWA: In a nutshell, describe the mission so far; the challenges you have had to face, the support you have received, successes recorded and the oppositions that have stood in your way.
Chief Kachindamoto: The mission so far has been good and progressive mainly because many girls have bought into the importance of girl- education as the key to getting out of poverty.
As for challenges, the lack of resources to cater for the girls from the annulled marriages has been the major challenge, as parents complain that I took them out of marriage but cannot provide the resources they need for their schooling.
This is compounded by the old norm in which the society believes that after girls hit puberty they are deemed ready for marriage; this has really hindered the progress of combatting child marriages.
In terms of support, several organizations namely; UN Women, Beautify Malawi, UNFPA, Plan Malawi, the Ministry of Gender Children Disability and Social Welfare and Lizulu timbers have provided support in form of school fees to a total of 600 out of 2449 children recovered from annulled marriages. The only opposition I have encountered during my mission has been that of community members who have insulted and threatened me.
IWA: Has being a traditional head facilitated your mission in any way, if yes in what ways?
Chief Kachindamoto: Being a traditional head did not necessarily trigger my decision to embark on this mission as I had previously seen this practice in my community. However, it is when I became a traditional head that I saw the extent of the practice and realizing that my role in the community allowed me to change such practices I immediately took advantage of this this and set it as priority.
IWA: Please state clearly reasons why you will continue to fight and stand against child marriages?
Chief Kachindamoto: The reasons why I will continue to fight and stand against child marriages is because I have seen 29 girls complete their secondary education and many more complete their primary education. The numbers can only increase with continued effort, and I believe that eventually my community will benefit from the completion of the education of these young girls as well as boys who will go on to develop the community.
IWA: Can you share your plans for the mission with us?
Chief Kachindamoto: Plans for the mission are basically to mobilize for the establishment of resource centres for the children that have finished the secondary education. What has driven me to have this vision is the lack of further steps for the girls who currently lack financial resources to continue to the tertiary level of education. As such the resource centres, will look to develop their skills to help them establish income generating activities.

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