I do not have enough words in my vocabulary to describe the awesome, amazing Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in the Dedza District of Central Malawi, who is using her power and position to terminate child marriages and send young girls back to school. This lady is my new heroine!
Coming from a family of chiefs herself, she never thought she would ever become one, given how low she was in the pecking order, but once she was called upon to come and take her place as the leader of her 900,000-strong community, Kachindamoto immediately got to work freeing girls, some as young as 12 years old from the bondage of early marriage, childbirth, and a life of despondency.
In the past three years, she has annulled more than 850 child marriages, sent hundreds of young women back to school to continue their education, and made strides to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls as young as seven to go to sexual initiation camps.
With more than half of Malawi’s girls married before the age of 18, according to a 2012 United Nations survey — and a consistently low ranking on the human development index, Kachindamoto’s no-nonsense attitude and effective measures have made her a vital ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.
Last year, her efforts were vital in seeing the legal marriage age in Malawi raised to 18, although the clause allowing for parental has seen to it that many parents still give out their daughters at an age far too young.
Not to be daunted, however, Kachindamoto ordered 50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement ending child marriage in Dedza District, the region she controls. When a few male chiefs continued to approve the marriages, Kachindamoto suspended them until they annulled the unions.
In addition to annulling the marriages (330 in June of 2015 alone!), this wondrous woman sent the children back to school, often paying their school fees with her own money. She has also asked parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage again to 21.
We can sit around in meetings all day; form think-tanks; organise forums and set up bodies and commission them to do absolutely nothing. Or we can make a change, saving one life and one future at a time.
Viva Theresa Kachindamoto! Viva Malawi!!
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