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This Fierce Female Chief Terminated Nearly 850 Child Marriages

This Fierce Female Chief Terminated Nearly 850 Child Marriages

They call her the child marriage terminator.

Theresa Kachindamoto is a female chief making strides in her community in central Malawi having annulled reportedly more than 300 child marriages in June alone, and close to 850 child marriages over the past three years.

Kachindamoto has the blood of Malawi chiefs running through her veins. She left her long-time secretary job at a city college in southern Malawi to become the senior chief to more than 900,000 people in the Dedza district of central Malawi.

But as the district's new chief, Kachindamoto became upset seeing 12 year olds being served up as child brides and bound by newborns on their hips.

"Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated," she told members in her community.

According to a 2012 United Nations survey more than half of Malawi's girls were married before the age of 18. The survey also ranked Malawi 8th out of 20 countries believed to have the highest child-marriage rates in the world. 

In 2015 Malawi's parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18.

But the law falls on the deaf ears of some parents. According to a recent Al Jazeera report, many poor parents in the Dedza district believe it is better to marry off their young daughters to ease financial burden. On the human development index, Malawi is considered one of the world's poorest places, ranking 160th out of 182 nations. And customary law still permits Malawian children to marry with parental consent.

Sexual initiation camps have also been found in Malawi to function as bridges to child marriage. According to the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF one in five Malawian girls is a victim of sexual violence.

Today, Kachindamoto is taking the law into her own hands. She got 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to end child marriage under customary law, and annul any child or early marriages in the area she governs.

And she fired four male chiefs permissive of child marriage in surrounding areas. Kachindamoto re-hired the male chiefs only until she could prove that they abolished the unions.

Now every girl Kachindamoto releases from a child marriage is sent back to school no matter what. The fierce chief either pays for the girl's schooling or finds a sponsor to do so. She even keeps a secret network to check in on whether parents are sending their daughters to school.

"If they are educated, they can be and have whatever they want," she said in an interview.

NEXT: 4 Stories of Young Girls in Asia Beating the Odds Against Child Marriage »

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Photo Credit: QueensOfAfrica/Twitter