What is in an arranged marriage?

Maria Singini has been living with her husband for 23 years. She is a 43-year-old mother of five and her husband, Martin, is 45 years old.
The couple got married in Mzimba through a traditional arranged marriage.
“We did not know each other. Two of his aunts came to our home village in Euthini looking for a wife for their nephew who at that time was working in South Africa. I did not talk to them, but they met my parents. The next time they visited, they showed me my husband’s photograph,” said Singini.

A young girl being taken  to her husband in East Africa where arranged marriages are common
A young girl being taken to her husband in East Africa where arranged marriages are common

She explained that all marriage arrangements such as lobola payments were completed before she met her husband for the first time.
“My husband came home a month later. He took me to South Africa right after we got married. I was not concerned about love for I did not know him well. But as time passed, we learnt to trust and love each other deeply. We have a wonderful marriage,” she said.
Singini said she stayed with her husband in South Africa for about a year before returning home to settle.
“A lot of marriages in my village are arranged. However, this is not the same as forced marriages because we agree to marry someone chosen by our parents. Before meeting my husband, I had already rejected two other suitors and my parents did not scold me for that,” said Maria.
However, while Singini and many others live happily after arranged traditional marriages, some argued that such marriages infringe on people’s rights and freedom.
Linda Jumbe from Chinsapo in Lilongwe thinks the practice is the same as infringement of rights.
“Most of the times it is women who suffer. This is a very bad tradition,” said Jumbe.
She argues that love ought to be considered as an important factor when choosing a marriage partner.
Human rights activist Habiba Osman says while there are times when arranged marriages work, it violates one’s rights if it happens without the consent of one or both marriage partners.
“Every person has the right to marry or get married to a person of his/her choice. However, with arranged marriages, it depends on the context. When the marriage is arranged without the couple agreeing to it, then this is really infringing on their right to marriage,” she explained.
However, Osman stressed that children under the age of 18 do not have to give consent to a marriage.
“This is because child marriage is a violation of human rights and our Constitution regards everyone under the age of 18 as a child. Thus, if parents arrange marriages of such children, they are violating their rights even if the children themselves agree to the marriage,” she explained.

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