Every year, an estimated number of 14 million girls get married before they turn 18. The constitution of the republic of Malawi Section 22 (3) stipulates that ‘for persons between the age of fifteen and eighteen years, a marriage shall only be entered into with the consent of their parents or guardians’. A serious look at the situation in Malawi, girls who are in that age group are usually at secondary level of their studies. Worse still, many girls below the age of 15 (more especially those in the rural areas) are primary school pupils. Thus, with or without consent, teen marriages only bring misery and despair to the girls and the society as a whole.
There are different reasons why young and energetic girls rush into matrimony. As an ideal way of trying to change this obviously imperfect state, I strongly suggest that we need to first of all look at the root causes of it. The solution to the problem under scrutiny in this write-up sorely lies in a proper analysis of the grounds of early marriages among teen girls.
Firstly, culture is among the factors that fuel teen marriages more especially among girls of this age group. The customs and beliefs that are characteristic of our society allure young girls to drop out from school just to get married. For instance, let us take initiation ceremonies as an example; the core reason of this practice is to initiate young boys and girls into adulthood. Thus, the young initiates are told and taught about the things adults do and how they are supposed to carry themselves as adults in their society. As it has also been said on numerous occasions by various social commentators that the practice itself is not entirely bad but certain elements of it are very destructive.
How can elders initiate a 13 year old girl into adulthood and expect her to continue with her studies and live under the roof of her parents’ house? Thus, the young initiates easily fall into marriage traps that are set by older men who are twice older than them. Furthermore, they know that adults are independent of their parents and that they have their own dwellings where they reside in. Consequently, the initiated teen girls look no further to fulfill the perceived necessities- they just jump into the hands of any man who asks for their hand in marriage.
My proposition here does not in any way propose that we should cast off initiation customs but that we should rather take out the undesirable elements. However, there is a strong resistance to change but change has to take place. This calls for a war of ideas and constructive arguments to mend the situation in a civil manner. The custodians of our culture just hold dearly the customs that were embraced a long time ago by our ancestors without questioning the purposes of some customs. Traditional customs are made by people and they are for the people as well. We can decide to change them in order to discourage harmful practices that impinge the well-being of adolescent girls and their communities.
Other factors that also fuel teen marriages include poverty, the lack of proper life skills and planning lessons, the lack of role models and career guidance sessions as well as many other similar features.
Real societies protect and create an enabling environment for its girls to realize their full potentialities. Change is inevitable but it cannot take place on its own, it needs people like us. That is me, you and everyone out there!