For the next two weeks Plan International is collecting signatures from people around the world who wish to stand in solidarity with courageous young campaigners in Malawi, who want their country’s constitution amended to put an end to child marriage.
Malawi has one of the world’s highest child marriage rates with more than half of the country’s girls married before the age of 18. Young girls who are victims of child marriage are often taken out of education leaving them with little choice over their future. Girls married early are more likely to experience violence, abuse and forced sexual relations.
Tionge, 24, is a girls’ and women’s rights campaigner and is a youth advocate with Plan International Malawi.
Here she tells us why ending child marriage in Malawi is so important to her and why she needs you to stand with young campaigners like her to help end child marriage.
Marriage is a big thing. I don’t think children are ready for marriage at 17 or younger. Life should be lived in phases. When a child is an infant, it should be allowed to act like an infant and play. When we’re teenagers, let us be teenagers and grow older to live the life that we want and make our own choice on when to get married and to who. A woman needs to be ready physically and mentally for marriage, it’s not something an 11-year-old girl can, nor should deal with, it’s just not fair.
Studies in psychology have shown that adolescence is around the time that people begin to realise their identity. Why not let girls find their identity? Why are we allowing girls to take care of people while they are still trying to figure out who and what they are?
This is what motivated me to do something about child marriage. I’m breaking all the preconceptions of what a girl should be doing – together with Plan International I’m talking to government officials and campaigning to try and make a change.
Together with the other youth advocates we’ve been campaigning for two years to end child marriage in Malawi. We did lots of training to understand the law and the loopholes that exist, which allow child marriage to go on. We’ve met the Minister of Gender, who has offered her help. The government is supportive, they are happy that young people are engaging in the issue, and that’s why we think we can achieve some real impact. We are the leaders of, not tomorrow, but today, so it’s important for young people to drive campaigns to make change!
In 2015, the law was already changed to outlaw child marriage, but a small section of the constitution still allows children with their parents’ consent to get married before they are 18 years old, meaning that many parents can still force their children into unwanted marriages. We want this section removed because we believe it’s creating an imbalance in our society.
Support from all over the world will make the government and public in Malawi stand up and pay attention and take our campaign seriously. It would show that it’s not just us, but that there’s a oneness and a unity that says, ‘we actually believe that if we did this it could be the start of something beautiful’. We’ve been working with the government and they’ve already shown their support for our campaign. Your support can now show that we are not alone and help us young people rally the level of support we need to achieve change.
We understand that changing the constitution is just the beginning, the inequalities of family life also need to be addressed – girls are taught that they can’t dream, but boys can.
Girls are raised to be good mothers and wives, why can’t we do the same with boys and fathers? Men and women should share the responsibilities of the family. My fellow campaigner, Mervis has a twin brother, she is treated very differently to him. She has to return home from school and do the household chores and cook, her brother doesn’t even know how to cook.
My children will learn that boys and girls are just the same and we should do things equally.
If we can amend the constitution and show families to treat girls equally, then girls can be saved from child marriage, they can continue their education and be saved from pregnancy and childbirth when they are still children themselves.
Women need to take a leading role in society!