Magistrate Esmie Tembenu of the Blantyre Child Justice Court has said the newly enacted Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act could be rendered useless in tackling early and forced marriages if Parliament does not amend Section 22 (7) of the Constitution of Malawi.
The section in question allows persons between the age of 15 and 18 to enter into marriage with the consent of their parents or guardians.
On the other hand, the new law does not permit parents and guardians to decide or consent marriage of children under the age of 18.
Speaking at a panel discussion organised by Girls Empowerment Network (Genet) last week, Tembenu said the contradictory laws will give courts problems in making appropriate determinations in cases where underage girls have entered into marriage.
Said Tembenu: “I am aware of the excitement the signing into law of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill has brought among well-meaning Malawians. However, this law can only be effective in the absence of Section 22 (7).
“Otherwise, an offender can successfully argue that he was within his right to marry a 15-year-old girl after seeking consent from parents. That is why I am saying we first have to amend or repeal Section 22 (7) if we’re to make progress in tackling child marriages.”
Tembenu asked Minister of Gender, Children and Disability Patricia Kaliati, who was present at the discussion, to lead the campaign for the amendment or repeal of the section.
Kaliati reaffirmed government’s commitment towards the empowerment of women and girls by domesticating international legal instruments that seek to promote gender equality and girl education.
She, therefore, thanked Genet for making strides in rooting out cultural practices that tend to victimise women and girls in selected districts in the country.
Genet board vice-chairperson Takondwa Kaliwo promised that her organisation will continue strengthening girl protection systems as well as ensuring that their voices are heard.