November 16, 2023
Spotlight: Theresa Kachindamoto
Theresa Kachindamoto is descended from a long line of traditional authority officials in Malawi, Africa, known as Ngoni chiefs. She had no idea she would rise to senior Chief, the lastborn of twelve children. She was the only child in the family to go to another place to live and work after completing her studies. However, she returned to her community after being chosen as Chief by the Ngoni tribe. Following the Sunduzeni regency from 2001 to 2003, Chief Kachindamoto succeeded Justino Kachindamoto VI as the Inkosi of the Chidyaonga line of the Maseko or Gomani dynasty, becoming Kachindamoto VII. Kachindamoto VI previously held the title from 1988 to 2001.
With almost 900,000 people under her informal jurisdiction, she is well-known for her decisive actions to end child marriages and enforce education for all genders. Ten-year-old girls in several African countries enrol in “marriage initiation camps,” where they lose their virginity and pick up life skills. Chief Kachindamoto decided to alter that after being appointed Chief.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” she spoke up. “They must go to school … no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”
Chief Kachindamoto ended child marriages with the backing of Malawi’s president and first lady, and she moved her domestic and global mission. Her courage paid off. 2017 saw Malawi enact significant constitutional amendments and passed a law outlawing marriages between people under 18.
“Several girls I helped rescue returned as adults to give thanks. Each visit reminds me how important this work is. We get to shape a generation by narrowing the gender equality gap,” Chief Kachindamoto commented. Just 45% of girls in Malawi complete their education beyond the eighth grade. The primary reasons for this high dropout rate are still child marriage and pregnancy, with one in every two females getting married before turning 18.
The realisation of a child’s rights, including her right to a sufficient education and her right to sexual and reproductive health, is severely impacted by child marriage. Girls who drop out of school are more likely to encounter various forms of gender-based violence since they have fewer options for employment.
“I talk to the parents. I tell them: if you educate your girls, you will have everything in the future,” she said. Chief Kachindamoto worked with UN Women, the government, civil society, and traditional leaders to help pass a constitutional amendment in February 2017 that raised the marriage age from 15 to 18. Since taking office, Chief Kachindamoto has frequently helped girls finish their education by providing financial aid and has revoked 3,500 child marriages in Malawi’s central area.
17-year-old Bernadetta Matison was one girl to have her marriage annulled. Married at 15, she became pregnant in the same year. “I dropped out of school because I got pregnant,” she said. “When I think about it now, I realise that getting married at such a young age isn’t a good thing.”
The accomplishments of Chief Kachindamoto are astounding—she is the first female leader in her village. In a place where child marriage is a deeply ingrained custom, her struggle for cultural transformation has needed tenacity, leadership, and will.
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