Theresa Kachindamoto, senior chief in the Dezda District of Central Malawi uses her authority to help women and young girls in her district. In the past three years, she managed to annul more than 850 child marriages, send hundreds of young girls back to school, and made efforts to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls of only seven years old to go to sexual initiation camps.
Malawi is well-known for more than half of the girls there getting married before the age of 18 and for a consistently low ranking on the human development index. However, Kachindamoto managed through her effective measures to be a vital ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.
She was born in the Dezda District and has been working as a secretary for twenty-seven years in another district when she was asked to serve as chief at home. When she returned, she was shocked by the amount of young girls with babies and young husbands and she started to take action. Only last year she raised the legal age to marry to 18. However, parents still continue to consent, which serves as a loophole to allow young girls to marry.
Further more, Kachindamoto requested that her 50 sub-chiefs sign an agreement ending child marriage, and when a few male chiefs continued to approve the marriages, she suspended them until they annulled them. In addition to this, she sent children back to school, oftentimes paying herself for their fees, and she asked parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage to 21.
She is also taking a stand against the cleansing camps where girls are sent before getting married, and where extremely disturbing sexual initiation rites take place. She is threatening to dismiss any chiefs who continue to allow these practices. Even if she has faced many oppositions from parents and community members, and she even received death threats, she remains determined to continue fighting for the benefit of Malawi’s women and their future.