Malawi is ranked at 160 on the list of world’s 182 most poor places to live. Being of the smallest countries in South Africa, Malawi’s 3/4th area is covered by Malawi Lake.

This country, with over 50% of its population living under poverty, is also covered with societal issues bred due to various reasons. With every 1 in 10 people suffering from HIV and every 1 in 5 girls being a victim of sexual violence, this country is in serious need to break the shackles of unfortunate customary laws and traditions.

SheThePeople and UN Women Partner To Improve Gender Dialogue In India

Helping the nation break away from some of these shackles, Theresa Kachindamoto, a senior chief in the Dedza district in Central Malawi, has broken up 850 child marriages in the last 3 years.

Here is a list of 10 things you should know about Theresa Kachindamoto

1. Kachindamoto quit a job of 27 years as a secretary at a city college in Zomba to become senior chief of her district

2. Kachindamoto comes from a family of chiefs and is the 12 and the youngest child in her family

3. She is a senior chief to more than 900,000 people in Dedza District in Central Malawi

4. Malawi is a country where more than 50% of its female population under 18 are married and the country is also ranked 8th out of 20 countries to have the highest child marriage rates. Kachindamoto’s first task was to stop this.

She annulled 850 child marriages within 3 years.

5. Malawi is a country where sexual initiation is a very common and a traditionally accepted practice. Kids as young as 7 are sent to camps where they are taught ‘how to please’ a man. Parents of these kids would often hire men to take their virginity before getting them married.

Theresa Kachindamoto banned these practices.

6. Inspite of laws being in place opposing child marriage, under customary laws and community laws, child marriage can be done with parental consent.

Kachindamoto got  50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to end child marriage and also asked them to annul the existing ones in their areas.

7.  When Kachidamoto learned about child marriages still being sanctioned at some places, she immediately fired the chiefs responsible for their respective areas. She hired them back once the said marriages were undone.

8. Kachidamoto has made sure that all girl victims of child abuse are sent back to school

She said in an interview to U.N. Women, “I don’t want youthful marriages. They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”

9. She pays for or finds sponsors for children who can’t afford school fees

10. She has a secret network of parents who act as social agents to ensure children aren’t pulled out of school

Picture Credit: The Heroin Collective