[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on Malawi to put an end to the practice of child and forced marriage in a report [text, PDF] released on Thursday. The report was compiled based on interviews with 80 girls and women in six districts in southern and central Malawi. The report details how child marriage exposes girls to domestic and sexual violence. According to HRW, the practice is now so common that those girls who refuse are often threatened and abused. By the age of 18, half of the girls in Malawi will have already been married. This trend causes more problems than just the potential for abuse. The report states:
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. It is ranked eighth of the countries that are considered to have the highest rates of child marriage by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)…. The most important reasons why child marriage in Malawi is so prevalent are poverty, teenage pregnancy, traditions and cultures that tolerate violence against girls and women and their subordination, and lack of adequate education and employment opportunities. These factors are all interlinked and heightened by a lack of strong judicial and government policy framework to ensure that existing laws designed to prevent and address child marriage are enforced.
To remedy this, HRW is calling on Malawi to overhaul its marriage laws, including setting a minimum age, defining the term “child” and enacting legislation creating a right to education.
Malawi’s human rights record has been called into question on many issues. In January Malawi’s high court [official website] began hearing [JURIST report] a petition challenging the country’s anti-gay law. Malawi became one of 37 African nations that currently has [CGE backgrounder] some form of law criminalizing homosexuality when they reversed their position [JURIST report] on the suspension of their anti-gay laws in November 2012. In June 2012 the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights urged [JURIST report] the government of Malawi to improve its human rights conditions and promote accountability in the country. This concern specifically referred to Malawi’s overcrowded prisons and slow process of justice.