BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 15:11 GMT
Malawi acts against child brides
Orphaned Malawian family with their grandmother
Aids has left many children orphaned and vulnerable
The government of Malawi is considering raising the legal age of marriage in the country to 18 as a result of a growing number of cases of young girls being forced to marry much older men.

The legal age of marriage in the country is currently 15, but many men are illegally marrying girls as young as 11 or 12.

As a result, the average age of marriage in Malawi is among the world's lowest, while the percentage of teenage mothers is among the world's highest.

Maxwell Matewere, executive director of The Eye Of The Child organisation which fights for children's rights in Malawi, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme that the issue was forcing the country to question itself.

"We strongly believe that the incidents of children being forced into marriage are growing by the day - but for people to report this is a taboo," he explained.

"It brings shame to the community, so they prefer to keep the information within the communities.

"This really does not help the process of protecting the children."

Causes

Last year, Malawi's government trained 230 volunteers in ways to protect children, and began efforts to more vigorously enforce the legal minimum age for marriage.

Mr Matewere said that HIV and Aids in the country have greatly increased the number of orphans, as well as increasing the number of vulnerable children.

Poverty is also a major factor, he said - something confirmed by one 12-year-old who has married a man aged 43.

I know that this is wrong, but because of the poverty here in this village, the parents can't afford to care for their daughter and support her needs
Man (43) who married girl, 12
"My grandmother told me to get married because she couldn't help me with all her financial problems," the girl, who did not want to give her name, told Outlook.

"MY husband helps me a lot - he's buying me clothes, food and anything else we need in our house. Of course I feel sorry for myself, because I know that I am so much younger than him.

"But my family chose this husband for me, because we were having problems. I had no other option but to get married to him."

Before the marriage, she would help the family on their farm and go to school, she said.

But she no longer receives any education, despite a wish to go back to school.

She also admitted she would like a husband younger than man she has at the moment.

But her husband said that he did not view marrying her as a violation of the rights of children.

"There is not a problem at all because her parents agreed to the marriage," he said.

"We love each other, and wanted to get married. It is our wish."

He added that in his view the problem was the financial situation in the country, which was "forcing young girls like her to marry older men like me.

"I know that this is wrong, but because of the poverty here in this village, the parents can't afford to care for their daughter and support her needs.

"I'm staying with her as a husband - but at the same time I'm looking after her as a parent... I want to keep on helping her, and in the future I want to open a big shop for her, just like my own."



SEE ALSO
Children living in fear of famine
26 May 05 |  Scotland
Kenya split by wedding row
22 Jul 03 |  Africa
Africa's forced marriages
08 Mar 01 |  Africa



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific