Not because it’s their responsibility, but because they already are.
For the past few years Plan International has been working with a group of Malawian youth activists who are passionate about ending child marriage in their country. These young women and men had firsthand knowledge of how child marriage changes lives – it has touched their friends, sisters and even themselves.
These young people told us this is what they wanted to change and we told them we’d help them do it.
Their first target was a loophole in the constitution that allowed people under 18 to marry with their parent’s permission.
They met parliamentarians and the paramount chiefs, they met with the Minister for Gender, with lawyers and with a coalition of other organisations committed to the same goal. They spoke with passion about the impacts of child marriage they had seen and why they wanted the law changed.
While they did that we mobilised our supporters across the globe to stand in solidarity with our Malawian youth activists. More than 62,000 people in countries around the world signed a petition in support of their Malawian sisters and brothers.
In September last year the youth activists recruited their biggest asset – the first lady of Malawi, who received the global petition and pledged her support.
Then in February this year all that hard work paid off. The Parliament of Malawi changed the constitution to make marriage under 18 illegal once and for all.
The Malawian youth activists know that this is only a first step. But it sure is a big one.
For us this shows that the very best people to overcome child marriage are the people impacted by it. This knowledge drives our work. Children are at the centre of all that we do. We listen to them and are led by them in tackling the root causes of poverty, discrimination and marginalisation.
Child marriage won’t end simply with the change of law. It is often driven by poverty and long held beliefs and attitudes. It is also an issue that we, the Australian public hold a host of misconceptions around. We need to move beyond seeing child marriage as another issue that divides us. We need to stop letting some media commentators use child marriage as a stick against our Muslim brothers and sisters- Malawi after all is a largely Christian country. To tackle issues like child marriage we need to work together across racial, religious and cultural divides.
So it makes sense to us that children can help challenge those attitudes in their own communities and here too. These young people are fierce, they are strong and they are powerful.
Our role is to support them as they create great change, and that’s where you come in. We need passionate advocates for the rights of children to help them drive change.