“We, the chiefs of these villages, believe that child marriage no longer has a place in this community. And when we say so, the people will listen to us.” – Village chief in Mangochi
From 31 May – 6 June a delegation, consisting of 8 representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the three alliances to end child marriage (the Yes I Do-, the More Than Brides- and the Her Choice Alliance), paid a joint visit to Malawi.
Together with the local coordinators and representatives of local partner organizations, we travelled through the Machinga, Mangochi and Zomba regions, all situated in the southern part of the country. We visited communities where the Yes I Do and More Than Brides programmes had been implemented since their launch, some six months ago. Although the Her Choice programme is not implemented in Malawi, alliance member The Hunger Project runs an active and successful programme in the country. Through their specific approach, The Hunger Project has created 12 so-called epicenters, one of which, the Champiti epicenter, we had the opportunity to visit.
When visiting a project site, we were every time again touched by the hospitality and enthusiasm of the community members. Upon our arrival a large crowd was already gathered on the central village space. We were introduced to notables, teachers and group leaders. Following the obligatory prayer (sometimes Christian, sometimes Muslim) there were usually statements by community elders and religious leaders about the importance of ending child marriage once and for all. This was followed by dancing, singing and theatre performances by different youth groups, which were so expressive and sometimes hilarious, that translation into English was hardly necessary. Very impressive were the personal testimonies by young girls who had managed to escape from marriage and go back to school.
In smaller formations we then had the chance to ask questions to leaders, teachers, and to members of youth-, parents- and child protection groups. After some initial hesitation, discussions became more and more open and usually ended in frank exchanges on child marriage related topics, including secretive of taboo subjects like initiation rituals, or abstinence versus use of contraception.
We also visited offices of partner NGOs, and were impressed by the variety of high quality activities and interventions. For instance: a popular radio station where trained children and youth broadcasted programs on child marriage and SRHR.run by trained youth and a national help line, connected to a sophisticated data base with a treasure of information on the target groups.
Back in the capital Lilongwe, our group also paid visits to representatives of UNICEF, UNFPA, Girls Not Brides and the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare. Although much improvement is still needed regarding the realisation of SRHR related subjects, often related to a severe lack of means, the political support for NGO efforts is evident. Especially our meeting with the representative of the Ministry of Gender gave us confidence in the future collaboration between the programmes and the Malawi government.
Our delegation was impressed by the openness of all people we met and talked to, and by their eagerness to bring about real change in favor of gender equality and education for girls (and boys). And last but not least, the ties between the three alliances and the Ministry, as well as the mututal appreciation and collaboration between local partner organisations and country offices, have definitely been strengthend as a result of this visit!
Odilia van Manen, Coordinator of the Her Choice Alliance
The Republic of Malawi, situated in southern Africa, counts more than 18.5 million inhabitants on a surface of 118.484 km² – which is around 3 times the size of the Netherlands. A former British colony, it is a country of impressive natural beauty, with a mix of plains and forests – including wild life parks – mountains, rivers and lakes. The Lake Malawi covers nearly 20% of the country. Protestants, Catholics and Muslim seem to live respectfully side by side. Religion plays an important role in the daily life of Malawians: all our meetings, including our meetings with village community’s and NGOs, were started and concluded with a prayer. The people of Malawi are very friendly and hospitable, for which reason the country is often called ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Malawi, however, is also one of the poorest countries on the planet. Additionally it struggles with high risk infectious diseases like Malaria, Typhus and Cholera, and ca. 12% of the adult population is infected with HIV/AIDS. According to UNICEF, 46% of girls in Malawi are married by the age of 18 (2016).
 Plan Nederland, Rutgers, Amref Flying Doctors, Choice for Youth and Sexuality and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).
 Save the Children Nederland, Simavi, Oxfam Novib and The Population Council.
 Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland, The Hunger Project, International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI) and the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam (AISSR/UvA).