Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati is today expected to table the much awaited Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill which has streamlined legislation on marriage and divorce, and also introduced a new marriage age of 18.
A Special Law Commission on the review of laws on marriage and divorce was instituted in 2001 and the Bill drafted years later but the cabinet rejected it over the issue of prohibition of polygamy.
Kaliati confirmed in an interview on Tuesday that she was ready to present the Bill and was expecting support from Members of Parliament, especially on the marriage age which has been contentious since a proposal to increase to 16 was shot down several years ago.
“Several organisations have assisted us to lobby for the passing of this Bill and we are hopeful that it will be passed,” Kaliati said.
But several MPs who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity, indicated that the Bill would be referred to a relevant committee of Parliament for scrutiny because legislators were taken by surprise.
“The section on marriage age can pass because we understood, that is what the bill was about but we don’t understand the rest of the Bill, it is too much,” one female MP said.
UN Women director Alice Shackleford said Parliament needed to lead by example and have a sense of responsibility to think beyond this year and next elections.
“The passing of this Bill will be a strong signal that the Parliament of Malawi cannot accept that girls continue to marry before the age of 18,” she said.