Malawians are part of the large Bantu population that migrated northward from South Africa at around the turn of the twentieth century, it has been a tradition in Malawi to marry a girl despite their age.
Theresa Kanchidamoto current chief of Malawi never had the ambition to become a chief, but her elders chose her as the next senior chief because she was “good with people” and told her that she now owed her tribe dutiful leadership whether she liked it or not.
After she toured to those homes constructed out of mud walls and grass-covered roofs, Theresa Kachindamoto was stunned to find countless young girls greeting her as the wives of their adult husbands. “Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,” she said on her first day of duty.
Together with 50 of Theresa Kachindamoto’s sub-chiefs, she formed and signed an agreement to end child marriages in the district. This immediately put an end to minors being able to marry and terminated the sexual initiation camps.
“I said to the chiefs that this must stop, or I will dismiss them,” said Kachindamoto.
For Theresa Kachindamoto, who spent 27 years as a secretary at a city college in the Malawi district of Zomba, that troubling safety net of child marriages had become entirely unacceptable, wrote Al Jazeera. As the descendant of chiefs, the youngest of 12, and the mother of five — she soon found herself in a position to challenge the practice.
When her lineage suddenly thrust her into the status of a senior chief to more than 900,000 people, Kachindamoto got to work and annulled 850 child marriages before sending those girls back to school.
This fundamental restructuring of regional norms was met with extreme aggravation by many. Outside of Kachindamoto’s jurisdiction, chiefs and police “can’t intervene” at all because the backlash is so vigorous.
“Most of them say ‘She should get married. We can’t afford to keep her…she will make us poorer,'” said Emilida Misomali, about the economic motivation of parents — which Theresa Kachindamoto’s efforts have threatened.
But the senior chief’s morals and ambition to help the innocent have allowed her never to waver. She stood firm and let the old guard understand how serious she was.
“I don’t care, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’ve said, whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school.”