By Mary Uneje
The sun has gone down the city of Chipoka. Darkness is taking over the land and an uneasy calm hangs over the horizon. Inside the heart of Lilian (not real name), a twelve old Junior Secondary School dropout, who is set to be married off to an older man her father’ age, things are as uneasy as the horizon out there. A little moment from now, when darkness has taken over the land and mankind is lying down on their beds, the hyena will creep into her room to show her the way.
Malawi an African country known for its highest rates of child marriages is now beaming with smiles as its Parliament early last week passed a Law banning “Child Marriage”. Malawi rates as the 10th highest country with child marriage records in the world. The Malawian culture is deeply entrenched in child marriage with the belief that a girl child’s early marriage maximizes her possible chances of fertility. In some parts of Malawi including the Sena region and some other areas bordering Mozambique, sexual initiations are carried out on young girls which fuels child marriage. When a girl reaches puberty, she receives a night time visit from an older man known as “hyena” who has sex with her in preparation for marriage. According to the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 2013 report, about 14.2 million girls under the age of 15 are forced into marriages every year. The Human Watch Report on the Malawian Child Marriage situation report of 2013, puts it that 1 in every 2 girls is married off before age 18. Saddened as this case may sound, the Malawians girls like Lilian and indeed the entire world who have been advocating for the rights of women and the youth would now be joyful that this country has turned over a new page as it deems it right to raise the minimum marriage age from 15 – 18 years. However, the Malawian traditional chiefs are still pleading for more increase as they said that at the age of 18 most of the girls are yet to finish from school and that it should be further increased to 21 years.
Lawyers Alert’ commends the Malawian Parliament for passing such a wonderful law at this point in time especially when the world over is clamoring for women liberation. But also wishes to state that the Malawian government still look into the supplication from the Traditional Chiefs for the increment of the marriage age of 21 years as pleaded. For such a girl child after graduation would not be a total dependent and a liability to her husband whereas a helper to her husband. Nigeria government who is not oblivious of this fight against discrimination and marginalization against women is also advised to emulate the Malawian government to see to the well being of the girl child especially in early marriage, education and other rights that is weighing on the girl child within the community where they find themselves and Nigeria at large. With the passage of this law, Lilian and her friends will finally be liberated from the fears of early and forceful marriage but most of all they would be happier because the age long hyena has at last been tamed.