Children’s Rights Standards and Child Marriage in Malawi

by Leah Mwambene and Obdiah Mawondza


Child marriages occur when one of the parties is below the age of eighteen. In Malawi, research has shown that most child marriages are a result of cultural practices. To comply with various international and regional instruments, Malawi has enacted different pieces of legislation that can be useful in addressing child marriage. The article, therefore, examines these different pieces of legislation and assesses Malawi’s compliance with international standards in addressing child marriages. The authors highlight two imperative issues. First, these laws show evidence of using international children’s rights standards as a tool in addressing child marriages. Secondly, they prescribe conflicting approaches that one can interpret as to encouraging child marriages linked to cultural practices. As a result, the article suggests possible recommendations on how Malawi can comply with international standards in addressing child marriages. These include amendment of laws, and more importantly, enactment of a specific law, for example, the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act, which, if enacted, should target all laws and cultural practices that lead to child marriages in Malawi.

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Lea Mwambene is Associate Professor of Law, University of the Western Cape with research focusing on the interaction between African customary law and human rights. Her current project is on the interaction between law, ideology, and social practice, a joint field research
effort with Helen Kruuse, Rhodes University on the practical application of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act in South Africa.

Obdiah Mawodza is an LLD candidate in Children’s Rights at the University of the Western Cape where he worked as a graduate lecturing assistant for Customary Law and Legal Systems. Currently, he is a Law Educator at Boston Campus and City College in Stellenbosch.