Meet Chief Kachindamoto, Malawi’s top marriage terminator. The corporate worker basically abandoned her job of 27 years as a College secretary in Zomba, Southern Malawi for the position of a senior chief in her community. With the power vested in her, she successfully ‘terminated’ about 850 child marriages.
Theresa Kachindamoto was the youngest of 12 siblings and a mother of 5. She became a senior chief to more than 100,000 people beyond her wildest imaginations. 13 years ago she was chosen to be a senior Chief in her community because she “was good with people”. It seemed as though she was not left with any other option than to comply to the summon and decision of the elders.
To her amazement on resuming office she discovered the high percentage of teenage couples. She was particularly stunned that a 12 year old was already a wife and a mother. She also discovered that parents willingly gave away their children that early because they lacked the means to cater for them. More shocking was the health rigours that they go through at child bearing.
“We see a lot of complications, like cesarean births and girls cut as their bodies are too small to give birth.”
Theresa also frowned and worked against the tradition of “sexual initiation” for the girls. “I said to the chiefs that this must stop, or I will dismiss them,” she said. She sure did make true her threats by suspending Village Heads who consented to child marriages. This was to serve as a deterrent for other local leaders. She made 50 sub-chiefs sign an agreement that abolished early marriage under customary law.
As at June 2015, Chief Kachindamoto had annulled 330 customary child marriages in Dedza (Central Region). That number consists of 175 girl-wives and 155 boy-fathers. In turn she sent the children back to school. There, she teaches them the importance of education and the need to respect their bodies. Thanks to her efforts, the lives and future of young girls were saved and protected from possible life-long trauma and damage.
Let’s not forget that Malawi has a considerably high HIV prevalence rate. Child marriages only increases the rates. In August 2015, Malawi ranked 8th in the list of 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriages. Already Malawi battles with unhealthy cultural practices.
Together with the UN Women, Malawi through leaders like Theresa is fighting cultural/religious ‘excuses’ that lure or push children into child marriages.
“I don’t want youthful marriages… They must go to school… no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.” – Chief Kachindamoto.
Chief Kachindamoto has gone as far as door-to-door in her community, annulling marriages, campaigning and sensitizing the people against child marriages.