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Theresa Kachindamoto: Don’t mess with fire

Each year, around 10 million girls worldwide become underage brides. In 2015, Malawi’s parliament passed a bill making the minimum age of marriage 18. Yet child marriage is still happening. There are several reasons for this.

First, many families in Malawi are living in poverty, which results in parents marrying off their daughters to receive inheritance through the groom’s side of the family. Second, in Malawi, social interaction and behaviour are grounded in tradition, which favours the male gender. Third, a lack of education can lead to laws being broken.

These three factors make the problem severe in Malawi. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 46% of Malawian girls are married by 18 and leave school before year 9 at the age of 13, mostly due to early marriage and teen pregnancy. Parents withdraw their girls from schools to enter marriages that will benefit the elders in the family.

In a bid to change this state of affairs, Miss Theresa Kachindamoto has built large intelligence networks of female informers, known as ‘The Mothers Group,’ who discreetly monitor local activities across the villages. Miss Kachindamoto is a tribal ruler of the Dedza District in central Malawi, and the name ‘Kachindamoto’ means ‘don’t mess with fire.’ This fits perfectly with her mission, which is to empower girls in a country where almost one in two girls have an arranged marriage before the age of eighteen.

The Mothers Group is pivotal in protecting young girls, through monitoring people’s behaviour and activities in the village, reducing the risk of young girls being forced into arranged marriages. Additionally, she has fired male sub-chiefs who refused to ban child marriages and who were found to be corrupt (accepting gifts from parents in exchange for allowing their young daughters to marry).

So far, Miss Kachindamoto has terminated 3,500 child bride marriages. Due to her brave work, she has allowed these girls to finish their education and live safely in their communities.

Despite her success in shifting mindsets, Miss Kachindamoto is still opposed by some elders, who think she is disrupting the traditional view of life in Malawi. In an interview with BBC Africa, Miss Kachindamoto highlighted the importance of education, stating: “If you educate a girl, you educate the whole area … and you will have everything in the future.” This is a powerful message, reinforcing what humanitarians have discovered the world over that educating girls is the key to tackling injustice and improving the lives of everyone in the community. Miss Kachindamoto certainly lives by the meaning of her name — Don’t mess with fire — and is an incredible role model for girls across the globe.

AUTHOR: Monique Henry Washington

My name is Monique Henry. I am a 21 year old passionate and energetic film scholar, who aims to enhance my digital and communication skills, whilst working with other creatives. Producing and directing are my main passions. I love seeing how a project flourishes from the thought of a single idea to a final product.

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