The new Malawi Marriage Divorce and Family Relations bill has put the age limit to enter into marriage at ‘not below eighteen years old’.
This, according to the Law Commission, which was given the task of reviewing old laws, will solve the discrepancy where for instance the civil marriage was pegged at 18 years according to the constitution (Section 22, sub 6), while customary and religious marriages had no age limit.
The old law (Sec 22, Sub 7) again was providing a loop hole by stating that one can marry at 15 if there is parental consent.
From this new bill, the Commission noted that marriages happening at under 18 years old are a health hazard especially to a girl child.
But Senior Chief Kaomba of Kasungu has other ideas.
Among other efforts to curb maternal deaths in his area, the Senior Chief is advocating for 21 years as a proper age for marriage in his area. The senior chief argues that even economically, at 18 someone is till dependent of his/her parents.
Until 2012, his area had the highest number of maternal deaths in Kasungu district according to Kasungu District Hospital Safe Motherhood Coordinator, Farida Malenga. She said in 2011, Kaomba had eight maternal deaths, and seven in 2012. “For the past few years his area has been leading in maternal deaths”, Farida confirms.
This sad development set tone for what would happen next in his area. “Senior Chief Kaomba was apparently very furious with the news, to an extent that he ordered his junior chiefs and village heads to come to the hospital to see the data for themselves,” said, Mrs Yoweli, District Health Information Officer for Kasungu.
Currently Kaomba’s area is a shining example of how community leadership can turn things for the better, to improve their areas. For the past two years, hospital data has shown tremendous improvements as maternal deaths in TA Kaomba have gone down by more than half with, only three deaths registered in 2013 and none in 2014.
According to the Senior Chief, all this success is due to different efforts he himself coordinates with support from different stakeholders including Mamaye.
The area has two active school based Mamaye clubs apart from community ones and the main safe motherhood committee which coordinates all the activities. He further says:
“My wish is to make my subjects get used to best practices for maternal and child health and there should be zero maternal deaths not only in my area but the whole district.”
Senior Chief Kaomba draws his inspiration and experience from being the first chairperson of Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM).
His area has a total of 27 Group Village heads and more than 20 of these have a functional community Mamaye committee dealing with maternal health issues. These committees are coordinated by the main committee which is also chaired by his wife.