Constitutional Review Process Towards Ending Child Marriages

Participants at the Northern Region Consultative Conference
Participants at the Northern Region Consultative Conference

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, together with Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust (WLSA-Malawi), and with funding from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), have conducted a technical review of the Constitution’s provisions governing marriage in terms of the age of a child.

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world and recent data indicates that one out of two girls are married before the age of 18 years (UNFPA 2012 and Millennium Development Goals End Line Survey). In an effort to end child marriage in Malawi, the Constitutional Review seeks to ensure that the Constitution’s provisions are complementary, purposive and protective of women and children’s rights.

Currently, the Constitution provides that individuals age 18 and above may consent to marriage, and that youth between the ages 15 and 18 may marry with parental/guardian consent. The Constitution also defines a “child” as a person under 16 years of age. Through these inconsistent provisions, the Constitution permits child marriage, thereby infringing on the rights of the child, in violation of their human rights and international law and standard (which define “child” as a person under 18).

Thus, there is a manifest need to reform and harmonize the Constitution’s definition of a “child”. This need for reform has also been noted due to the enactment of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, as well as Malawi’s commitment to international standards to prohibit marriage by persons under the age of 18.

A Northern region stakeholders conference was recently held in Mzuzu which brought together members of the judiciary, chiefs, members of civil society organisations and concerned citizens. Emerging issues were duly noted. The Ministry of Justice and WLSA Malawi will continue to hold further conferences throughout the country to firstly inform citizens about the project, its challenges, objectives, organisation, impacts and scheduling and secondly for stakeholders to come forward with opinions, thoughts and comments that the Ministry of Justice, UN Women and WLSA-Malawi can use to develop and defend the case that there is the need for a technical review of the Constitution.

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