Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and has an HIV infection rate of 10% of the population. It is also the country where Theresa Kachindamoto was born and raised along with twelve siblings in a family of traditional rulers in the Dedza District.
She had been working as a secretary for twenty-seven years in another district when the chiefs of Dedza district chose her as the next senior chief of the district, with over 900,000 people. Theresa was known for being "good with people" and that she was now the chief, "whether I liked it or not", she recalls.
Kachindamoto properly wore traditional beads, ruddy robes, and a leopardskin headband, and came home to meet her people.
Terminator of early marriage
"I told them: 'Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.'"
Malawi is ranked 8th out of 20 countries thought to have the highest child-marriage rates in the world.
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 effective measures have made her a crucial ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.
Last year, Malawi's parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18. But under the customary law of the traditional authorities, and the constitution, Malawian children can still marry with parental consent.
Terminator of sexual initiation camps
Malawi is known for its sexually abusive traditions known as "cleansing traditions". These customs include sending girls bound for marriage away to camps for "Kusasa Fumbi"- which means cleansing.
In these initiation camps, the girls are taught 'how to please men' by performing titillating dances and sex acts. Some "graduate" only by having sex with the teacher. Others return home untouched, only to be preyed on by a local "hyena" - men hired by parents to take their girls' virginity, or by prospective husbands to impregnate them.
Kachindamoto took a stand against the cleansing camps and threatened to dismiss any chiefs that continue to allow these savage practices.
changing the world by changing the law
Kachindamoto realized that she could not change the traditionally set mentality of parents and villagers and decided to change the law instead.
Last year, Malawi raised the lawful age to get married to 18. However, parental consent proceeds to serve as an a escape clause to permit more young girls to marry. Kachindamoto then requested 50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement of abolishing child marriage in the Dedza Area. When a number of male chiefs proceeded to endorse the relational unions, Kachindamoto suspended them until they invalidated the unions. In addition to invalidating the relational unions (330 in June of 2015 ), this furious chief sent the children back to school, frequently paying their school expenses with her possess cash. She has also inquired parliament to raise the least age of marriage once more to 21.
If they are educated, they can be and have whatever they want,..