The common thread among these girls: They were all far too young to get married.
Children in Malawi, especially when they are young, they have very high hopes for the future. They dream about being doctors, they dream about being pilots. But the environment in which they live in does not always enable those dreams to come true.
Nobody forced me to get married. But I felt I had to because I needed help with the basic necessities of life.
The main challenge for me was that [my husband] was much older than me. I didn't have a voice and I had to say yes to everything he asked me to do.
If you complain to the police, they tell you to go back to your husband.
I regret [getting married] and now know I won't be able to realize my dreams.
Child marriage is a form of gender based discrimination. It's a form of violence against women, because, it likely affects girls, and if you look at the consequences of child marriage on the rights of women and girls, it's devastating. 1 in 2 girls in Malawi are married before their 18th birthday.
I got married so that I could get the financial support I needed because my mother was very poor. I experienced a lot of health problems during my first pregnancy because I was so young.
I'm also worried about my sister who is living a miserable life. I wasn't ready for marriage, but problems in my life pushed me into it. But it was not my wish to get married to that man. Because I was too young to be married. I wasn't happy.
What are the main factors that lead to early marriage?
Poverty. She thinks poverty leads to early marriage in Malawi. Is there another factor? Yes.
Cultural practices. Parents forcing their children, or girls, to get married, yes? So, what are the impacts of early marriage on us? As Malawians?
It leads to school dropout.
Early marriages lead to school dropouts. How...
Child marriage continues to perpetuate inequality because girls are not able to go to school. It affects their health, it affects their ability to marry only when they're willing and able to do so, and it affects their ability to be free from violence.
I didn't want to get married but I was forced into it. I lived with my husband and became pregnant. Meanwhile he would assault me to the extent that I suffered a miscarriage. He never stopped abusing me. So once my father returned home and heard what happened, he came to take me home.
I was not happy that my daughter got married. Because it meant the end of her education and her future would be doomed. But if a child gets educated, she is able to become financially independent. The child no longer depends on her parents or other people for survival.
This is our victim support unit. It's a space at the police station where women that are facing violence can go for help. Teachers help to actually to encourage women and girls to come forward to report violence, but challenges remain.
So these registers are of about 110 pages but we can complete these in the two months. So you can imagine that the number of gender based various cases are reported almost every day. They accuse of the victims requiring our services. Yet, we don't have enough space. This room if we had to measure it, is about 2 meters by 1 and a 1/2. If we had to receive a victim who requires to be resting somewhere, it's difficult.
These girls when they come in, they are still young. They're around 14, 15. They are scared because they are still young, not mature either physically or even mentally. To compare with the number of young girls who were giving birth in those years, like the 1990's and nowadays, the number is increasing.
I got married last year. I have a newborn baby, born two days ago. I got married last year because I'm an orphan, lost both my parents. I went to live with my grandmother who wouldn't let me go to school, but made me work in the fields instead. I wanted to get married as a way of escaping the tough life I was leading. God willing, I will make sure that I send my child to school. I don't want my child to end up like me.
In Malawi there is not a minimum age of marriage. The current low is very ambiguous. It has a lot of gaps.
This is the constitution of the Public of Malawi, and the section 22 subsection one says "There is no person over the age of 18 years shall be prevented from entering into marriage." Our Child Care, Protection, and Justice Act is talking about 16 and above. So I think the government to do something to make sure that this create distinction or so that whenever a court is sitting, should know which age a child by a boy should enter into marriage. Because as of now the courts are in dilemma.
Child marriage is as a result of government failure to address the rights of women and girls, and to empower them. This is a vicious cycle of violation of rights and inequality. If there are no opportunities for girls to go to school, they get married. When they get married still they are not able to continue with education. So, they continue being subordinates. They continue being invisible in society. The most basic starting point to protect girls against child marriage is having a very clear minimum age of marriage. It ensures a uniform application of the law. If you're under the age of 18, you cannot be married.
The government needs to make sure that they have a very clear plan of how they want to address child marriage. Having a national plan that sets out the legal forms that need to be done, the programmatic initiatives that need to be taken in order to address child marriage. The consequences of child marriage are far reaching. They don't just affect girls. In childhood, they follow them to their adulthood, they affect their families, they affect their communities, and in the end they affect the whole country.