Malawi Passes the Marriage Divorce and Family Relations Bill, 2015

Hon. Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare

The 12th of February 2015 will go down into the history of Malawi as the day on which Malawi decided to address critical issues that affect the lives of Malawians, especially women and the girl child. The UN in Malawi would therefore like to join hands with all Malawians in celebrating this momentous step.

Special congratulations should go to Cabinet; the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Honorable Patricia Kaliati for her leadership together with her team in the Ministry headed by the principal Secretary, Dr Mary Shawa; the Parliamentarian Women Caucus and each and every Member of Parliament; the Law Commission; the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor general for their efforts; and last but not least all the national and international Non-Governmental Organizations who joined hands and worked tirelessly over the pass few years to ensure the passing of this law.  This shows that when Government, Parliament and partners work together change is possible!

The Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations law will among other issues address the issues of child marriages in Malawi, as it raises the age of marriage to 18 years old, a complex issue, rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. The law is the starting point to protecting the girl child. Raising the marriage age keeps the girl child safe from the countless risk factors and human rights violations that child marriages entail.

The focus on the girl child is critical. The focus on her education, her right to family planning and not to marry at early age, as well as the elimination of gender-based violence are key steps to ensure social-economic development for Malawi. This is why this piece of legislation is key and will further support ongoing efforts and overall contributes to economic development.

Further, the law will protect women, young, old and the girl child, against any form of abuse or violence-emotional, physical or otherwise-that are related to marriage, sexual relations and family. It will also hold those parents, who marry their children off below the age of 18, accountable to the law and ensure their prosecution.

UN Women Malawi has worked tirelessly, since the opening of its offices in 2012, to lobby for this bill.

This includes hosting continuous dialogues and consultations with parliamentarians, civil society and non- governmental organisations.

The UN in Malawi recognizes that this one of many steps required to bring the necessary changes around women and girls’ rights in Malawi and that all stakeholders have to join hands and work around implementation as well as attitudinal and behavioral change. Commitment is that to collaborate with government, parliament and civil society as well as private sector in supporting the dissemination and implementation of the new marriage law as well as others.