The war against injustice can be won only when we are determined to take all necessary steps to end malpractice, even if it means standing against tradition and everyone involved.
Theresa Kachindamoto never dreamed of becoming a chief, had never held the ambition to become chief.
Yet, her reputation for being “good with people” secured her an unexpected election, and in 2003, she officially became the paramount chief, or Inkosi, of the Dedza District in the central region of Malawi, “whether she liked it or not”.
Malawi is one of the most concentrated regions for child marriages in the world, where half of the girls are married before their 18th birthday, and as many as a quarter of the country’s maternal deaths occur in instances of teen pregnancy, due to severe complications as a result of increased difficulty gaining weight and getting the adequate nutrition. Also, it increases their risk of cervical cancer and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV.
At this point, she decided to dedicate to terminate the practice of child marriage in her community, which has been widely accepted, mostly due to financial reasons.
Since 2017, she has annulled over 1500 child marriages, sending the young girls back to school to finish their education.
Nicknamed “The Terminator”, this strong woman also opposed “kusasa fumbi”, the practice of sending underaged girls off to camps to train them – in many cases, girls as young as 7 – to sexually please their potential husbands.
She threatened to remove any chief from power who allowed this practice.
At one point, she even fired four chiefs in areas where child marriages were still happening and forced 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement abolishing the practice of child marriages.
Additionally, she built up a large network of female informers, known as “secret mothers,” across the district’s 545 villages to ensure her rules are obeyed.
In February 2017, she helped the whole nation of Malawi to adopt a constitutional amendment that rose the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, leading to a huge jump in the nation’s possibilities for girls to continue attending school. She did her best to educate families on why it helps them in the long run to end the practice of these early marriages.
She then said that they are relying on the Government and key stakeholders, like UN Women, to ensure its implementation and added that the community needs to be sensitized so that they know that it is now illegal to marry off children before the age of 18.
Kachindamoto knows that her work is far from done, as people will take time to adopt the new law, and changing attitudes and behaviors takes time, but she will continue redefining their traditional culture.
She received death threats but replied that it would be the only way to stop her, as she is determined to send the young girls back to school, no matter what.
Speaking at 16th Annual Vital Voices Global Partnership Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C. she explained her vision:
“When girls are educated, everything is possible.”