Before the end of the month, the lives of millions of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will be transformed, thanks to what many are calling the beginning of the end for child marriage.
The national Parliament of Malawi plans to increase the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. This is a monumental step forward for gender equality in Malawi, one of the poorest nations on earth that is also a primary focus country for Girl Up.
Nearly 47% of girls are married before the age of 18 in Malawi, some as early as 12 years old. These girls are forced to drop out of school, suffer the life-threatening health consequences of early childbearing, and often face a lifetime of abuse at the hands of a much-older husband they did not choose to marry.
For many years, advocates have been working to convince the government of Malawi to address this critical issue, with little forward progress. One year ago, graduates of the Public Health Institute’s Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy & Leadership Initiative (AGALI) came together to form the Adolescent Girls Advocacy Network (AGANET). AGANET and AGALI are transforming the reality of girls in Malawi by building a national movement of civil society leaders and organizations advocating to end child marriage.
Beginning in 2011, AGANET pioneered a comprehensive model in the fight to end child marriage. Their plan incorporated national policy advocacy to raise the legal age of marriage to 18, collaboration with village chiefs and traditional authorities to end the practice of child marriage at the grassroots level, and empowerment of adolescent girl advocates to enable them to actively participate in efforts to end child marriage.
These efforts have convinced Malawian President Joyce Banda and the national Parliament to stand up for girls. This week, the Malawian Congress will vote on a revised Marriage Bill that will raise the legal age of marriage to 18. This vote can change the lives of millions of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the result will have a profound impact on ongoing global efforts to end the practice of child marriage!