Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika has approved a law which raises the age for marriage from 16 to 18. Local and foreign non-governmental organisations have long campaigned for the ban on child marriage, saying it “traps girls, their families and communities into a cycle of inter-generational poverty”.
Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That equates to 28 girls every minute. Malawi, where Inter Care sends medical aid to around 25 health units, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with approximately 1 in 2 girls married by the age of 18. The impact of child marriage on girls is devastating. Often isolated, with their freedom curtailed, girls are deprived of their fundamental right to health, education and safety.
According to the UN, child marriage threatens girls’ lives and their health and it limits their future prospects. Neither physically or emotionally ready to give birth, child brides face higher risks of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death in 15-19 year olds in low and middle income countries.
Inter Care is all too aware of the impact of early marriage on the health of young girls in Malawi. We have been supporting The Fistula Care Centre in Lilongwe with vital medical aid since 2015. Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury and according to the UN, one of the key ways of preventing it is by delaying the age of first pregnancy. Child marriage is one of the principal drivers of early pregnancy.
Margaret Moyo, Country Coordinator of the Fistula Care Centre in Lilongwe agrees, “The traditional practice of early marriage contributes to a risk of obstructed labour and fistula. So delaying the age of marriage will help reduce maternal and neonatal deaths as well as fistula alone.”