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What is the Prevalence rate of Child Marriages in Malawi : 

In Malawi, 42% of girls are married before the age of 18 and almost one in 10 are married before their 15th birthday.

Malawi has the 12th highest prevalence of child marriage globally.

7% of boys in Malawi are married before their 18th birthday, which makes the Malawi one of the top 20 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of child marriage among boys.

Child marriage is common among all ethnic groups, and across all three regions of Malawi, although rates are slightly higher in rural areas of southern Malawi. UN Women has identified hotspots for child marriage in the Karonga district in the Northern region, and Mulanje, Mangochi, Machimba and Zomba, in the Southern region.

A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Ethiopia could generate a 10% rise in earnings for women who married early, and up to USD 167 million in additional earnings and productivity for the whole country.

What causes child marriage 

In Malawi, child marriage is also driven by:

  • PovertyHalf of the population in Malawi live below the national poverty line. Some poorer families marry off their daughters to reduce their perceived financial burden or to offer them a better life. Some girls are exchanged during Kupimbira – a form of debt repayment – in the northern part of the country. Human Rights Watch reports that some parents force their daughters to have sex with men in order to receive money or food.
  • Harmful traditional practices: The chinamwali or nsondopuberty rite of passage can act as a catalyst to child marriage. Among ethnic groups in northern Malawi, lobola – bride price – signifies the creation of an alliance between families, and representatives from both sides negotiate the terms of a marriage through a mediatorHuman Rights Watch reports that some girls are thrown out of their homes if they refuse to marry.
  • Adolescent pregnancy: Malawi’s traditions and patriarchal culture encourage early sexual initiation, while renounces pregnancy outside of matrimony. In a 2017 ICRW study, 87% of respondents said that child marriage happens because of pregnancy and 93% agreed that unmarried girls who get pregnant are “naughty”. The “defilement” or rape of a girls can also initiate a child marriage, particularly when the sexual abuse results in pregnancy. Girls are married off to avoid bringing dishonour to their families. One traditional leader was quoted saying that unmarried pregnant girls are labelled as “disabled”.
  • Limited awareness: Many girls in Malawi do not know their rights under the law or where to look for assistance when faced with child marriage. A 2017 study shows that only 8% of girls in Malawi are able to list at least three harmful effects of child marriage.
  • Lack of opportunities: In a 2017 ICRW study, 77% of respondents said that child marriage happens in Malawi because of a lack of education or job opportunities for girls. Girls may see early marriage as a way out of poverty or violent family situations.
  • Boarding: A 2015 shadow report to CEDAW highlights that schools with a lack of boarding facilities force some girls to self-board in nearby houses, where they sometimes end up marrying men in exchange for money.

What International Commitments have been made 

  • Malawi has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Malawi co-sponsored the following Human Rights Council resolutions: the 2017 resolution on recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2019 resolution on the consequences of child marriage. In 2014, Malawi also signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
  • Malawi co-sponsored the 2013 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage.
  • Malawi acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1987, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
  • In 2017, the UN Child Rights Committee urged Malawi to take all measures necessary to eliminate child marriages, including by developing comprehensive awareness-raising campaigns and programmes on the harmful effects of child marriage and providing appropriate financial resources.
  • During its 2015 Universal Periodic Review, Malawi supported recommendations to ensure successful implementation of strategies and legal reforms to end child marriage.
  • In 1999 Malawi ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2005 Malawi ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
  • In 2014, Malawi launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
  • Malawi is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the Government of Malawi committed to end child marriage and delay first pregnancy among girls (10-19 years) by 2030, by effectively enforcing laws, coordinating policy making, and promoting national prevention awareness and advocacy campaigns as part of a wider programme to target all forms of violence against women, girls and boys.
  • Malawi is one of the countries where the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between European Union and United Nations) is supporting efforts to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. Combating child marriage is one of the key focus areas of the Spotlight Initiative in Malawi.
  • Malawi is also one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
  • At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
  • Malawi partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). 
  • What is the government doing to end Child Marriages 
  • In March 2018, First Lady Gertrude Mutharika urged all Malawians to be part of the solution to end child marriage.
  • In 2018, the Government of Malawi launched the Strategy of Adolescent Girls and Young Women, developed with support of UNICEF and public and private stakeholders. The strategy has a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to empower girls and young women, and improve their health, education, gender equality, and economic empowerment outcomes. Adolescent mothers are among the identified group of vulnerable adolescents.
  • The National Plan of Action for Vulnerable Children in Malawi identifies child marriage as an effect of vulnerability. It calls for measures to protect children from being married off and envisions activities to raise awareness in the communities.
  • The National Plan of Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi 2014-2020 includes several targets related to child marriage, including producing and disseminating local language awareness-raising materials and supporting traditional leaders to end child marriage.
  • Traditional leaders play a key role in ending harmful cultural practices such as child marriage. Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, a prominent Ngoni Chief in the Central region of Malawi, has been a vocal advocate on the issue of child marriage and has contributed to the achievement of legislative changes. During her chieftainship, Chief Theresa has annulled more than 2500 child marriages.
  • Plan International and Malawian young people have been working with a taskforce of government bodies, advocates, traditional authorities, religious leaders and teachers calling for Malawi’s constitution to be reformed. In 2016, young campaigners presented the First Lady of Malawi with a petition signed by people from over 30 countries.

What is the minimum legal framework around child marriages 

Under the Constitution and the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill No. 5 (2015), the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years with no exceptions.

In 2017, the Parliament voted to amend the Constitution to make child marriage illegal and remove a provision that allowed children to marry at 15 with parental consent.


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  20. Population Council, More Than Brides Alliance: Baseline Report, Malawi, 2017
  21. Spotlight Initiative, Malawi, [website], 
  22. U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019
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  24. UN Women, Multi-Country Analytical Study of Legislation, Policies, Interventions and Cultural Practices on Child Marriage in Africa, 2018,  .
  25. UNICEF and UNFPA, Child Marriage: A Mapping of Programmes and Partners in Twelve Countries in East and Southern Africa, 2018,  . 
  26. UNICEF DATA, Malawi
  27. UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1.
  28. United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017. 
  29. USAID, USAID Supported National Strategy Of Adolescent Girls And Young Women Launched, [website], 2018
  30. Women and Law in Southern Africa Research, Education Trust Malawi, Faculty of Law, Chancellor College, University of Malawi for Malawi CSOs, JOINT CEDAW MALAWI CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS SHADOW REPORT 2015, 2015
  31. World Bank and International Center for Research on Women, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Global Synthesis Report, 2017,  .
  32. World Bank, Malawi, [website], 2018

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