Chief Teresa Kachindamoto

Chief Teresa Kachindamoto. Photo courtesy Hannah McNeish/Al Jazeera.

Chief Theresa Kachindamoto has been a senior Malawi chief in Monkey Bay for the last 13 years for around 900,000 people. As the youngest of 12 children, she never imagined she would one day become chief. It wasn’t even something she wanted originally; when she was told she had been chosen to be the next chief she was living in Zomba and working as a secretary for a city college.

However since returning home and becoming chief, Kachindamoto has become a powerful force for good in preventing and terminating child marriages. A UN survey in 2012 found that half of Malawi girls married under the age of 18, coming 8th out of the 20 worst countries for child marriages in the world. Last year Malawi passed a law forbidding child marriage, however they concede to customary law that children can marry below the age of 18 with parental consent. As it is usually the parents pushing for child marriages this is not a big barrier to child marriage.

She has met with strong resistance from families who find that marrying their daughters off young eases their financial problems, with one less mouth to feed. With girls as young as 12 marrying, their bodies are not yet mature enough for childbearing and birth, and a lot of the births have to be cesarian because the girls are too small to give birth naturally. Kachindamoto has told parents that the best futures for their daughters involve education and not child marriage but in poor rural areas this is ignored.

She soon realised that if she couldn’t change parents minds then she would have to change the law, so she made child marriage illegal under customary law by getting another 50 chiefs to agree to it! Those who failed to enforce this properly were fired, however once they terminated the marriages she let them return.

Kachindamoto has made a remarkable difference to the lives of the children she works so hard to protect. She has faced death threats for the changes she has made to these girls lives, but nothing would stop her from doing what she knew was right! In the last three years Kachindamoto has broken over 850 marriages and all the children involved have returned to school, ‘If they are educated, they can be and have whatever they want’ she says.

To read the UNFPA study, click here.
-Danielle Triggs
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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