The child marriage expert’s story

Mac Bain Mkandawire , executive director of Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) in Malawi

Mac Bain Mkandawire is executive director of Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) in Malawi.

“When we look at the issue of child marriage in Malawi, one of the very critical things that we are dealing with on a daily basis are related to poverty. That is a fundamental issue.

“I want to highlight that over the years, in the areas that are devastated  by floods and drought, a lot of children are being married off because their families are very numerous.

“Sometimes, the children are the ones who are choosing to get married so that they can get a better living, even though that is not always the outcome. But the thinking behind it is : ‘We are hungry here. If you get married, the man may help you get some food’. For instance, the district of Mangoche has been particularly affected by floods and there has been an insurgence of girls getting married in that area. But those marriages don’t usually last, since they were not very stable to begin with.

“We are not talking about half a dozen girls who are pushed into marriage because of climate change. We are talking of probably over 50 or 60 girls in a each village. In Malawi, child marriage has been an issue for a long period of time, with one in two girls getting married before they reach their 18th birthday.

“But that figure does not take into account the climate change impact. When people are designing studies, the issue of climate change isn’t linked to child marriages.  We do not have detailed figures, but I would say 30% to 40% of child marriages in Malawi are due to the floods and droughts caused by climate change. Given that there are about four or five million” girls at risk of getting married in Malawi, around 1.5 million girls are at risk of getting married because of climate change related events. That is a very huge number.

“When girls get married, they are expected to have sex and to have babies. Chances are very high that they will have children who will continue living in this situation of poverty and be married off again because of the same challenges. Also, those girls are prone to face various health issues. In the area of Mangochi, there are a lot of cases of fistula, which comes as a result of blockage during labour, creating holes between the mother’s  rectum and vagina. A lot of young girls also have to give birth through a caesarean section. Let me also highlight that we currently have an increase in teenage pregnancy from 26% to 29%, between 2010 and 2014. This is a result of child marriages.

“When I first came to the Zomba district  in 1991, Zomba was a green city. It was always wet, the breeze was good, you could feel the fresh air. Twenty years down the line, Zomba is a dry city, very dusty, very hot. We never used air conditioning before in Zomba. But now you have to use it or have a fan. We never used to have floods in Zomba. All of a sudden we do. This is a huge impact of climate change. We should not put a blind eye on it.

“Now that climate change is coming out as a big issue, it would be important for govnerments, for the UN and the EU, to incorporate it as an indicator when looking into the issue of child marriage. Because currently the focus has been on poverty in general. But the issue of climate change can affect the poverty levels. That will have an impact on the families and eventually lead to child marriages. The vulnerability that climate change causes will lead to more child brides and we need to focus on them and provide support and information so that people are more aware of how to deal and respond to the issue of child marriages that result from the impact of climate change.”

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