Girls, not brides

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

When Mem­ory Banda’s younger sis­ter was forced to marry at just 11 years old, Mem­ory be­came determined to en­sure that no more girls had to ex­pe­ri­ence her sis­ter’s fate. Since then, this re­mark­able young woman from ru­ral Malawi has helped to per­suade her gov­ern­ment to raise the min­i­mum age of mar­riage across her coun­try, and is blaz­ing a trail for girls that we all should fol­low.

Mem­ory’s sis­ter be­came preg­nant dur­ing a tra­di­tional sex­ual “cleans­ing cer­e­mony,” a rite of pas­sage in some parts of Malawi that is sup­posed to pre­pare pubescent girls for wom­an­hood and mar­riage. She was forced to marry the fa­ther of her un­planned child, a man in his early 30s, and was bur­dened with all the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of adult­hood. Now 16, she is rais­ing three chil­dren alone; she has been un­able to re­turn to school.

The in­ci­dent in­spired Mem­ory to push for a bet­ter fu­ture for girls. She be­came in­volved with a lo­cal grass­roots group, Girls Em­pow­er­ment Net­work, join­ing other young women and civil-so­ci­ety groups across Malawi to urge vil­lage au­thor­i­ties and par­lia­men­tary min­is­ters to put an end to child mar­riages.

Last month, Mem­ory’s ef­forts – along with those of thou­sands of oth­ers – paid off, when Malawi’s gov­ern­ment en­acted a new law that sets the min­i­mum age for mar­riage at 18. Mem­ory’s achieve­ment is an im­por­tant one. Ev­ery year, some 15 mil­lion girls are mar­ried be­fore the age of 18, and their plight is all too of­ten ig­nored. A girl forced into mar­riage typ­i­cally faces pres­sure to bear chil­dren be­fore she is phys­i­cally or emo­tion­ally ready to do so. And the re­sult can be deadly. Girls who give birth be­fore they turn 15 are five times more likely to die in preg­nancy or child­birth than women in their 20s.

The con­se­quences of child mar­riage are life­long. Child brides typ­i­cally drop out of school, los­ing the chance to ac­quire the skills and knowl­edge needed to lift them­selves and their fam­i­lies out of poverty. Like Mem­ory’s sis­ter, they of­ten are mar­ried to older men – a sit­u­a­tion that leaves them less able to en­sure that they are treated well. Can you imag­ine try­ing to stand up to a man you did not choose, you do not love, and who does not re­spect you?

Ed­u­ca­tion for

girls

is

cru­cial to end­ing

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