Iconic Women

Fighting Child Marriages In Malawi, Theresa Kachindamoto

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Jul 20, 2022

Theresa Kachindamoto is a senior tribal chief who fights to end and prevent early child marriages, so girls go back to school. She has been nicknamed the “Terminator” of child marriages. Theresa Kachindamoto is a senior chief of the district of Dedza, Malawi, and one of the 300 tribal leaders of the country. 

Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of twelve siblings in a family of traditional rulers in the Dedza District around Lake Malawi. She worked as a secretary for 27 years at a College in Zomba District in southern Malawi. She married and became the mother of five boys. In 2003, the chiefs of Dedza district chose her as the next senior chief of the district, with over 900,000 people. She said she had been chosen because she was "good with people" and was now senior chief whether she liked it or not. She accepted the position and returned to Monkey Bay, where she assumed the traditional red robes, beads and leopardskin headband.

Theresa became the Inkosi of the Chidyaonga line of the Maseko or Gomani dynasty as Kachindamoto VII in succession to Justino Kachindamoto VI, who had held the title from 1988 to 2001 after the regency of Sunduzeni from 2001 to 2003.

 

Saving Girls from Child Marriages

 

When Chief Theresa Kachindamoto returned to her village, she was shocked to meet a young 13-year-old mother who had been forced to marry. She knew then that she was going to make it her life mission to end the practice of child marriage.

“I don’t want youthful marriages,” she said. “They must go to school … no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”

“I talk to the parents. I tell them: if you educate your girls, you will have everything in the future,” she said.

Working with UN Women, the government, civil society and traditional leaders, Chief Kachindamoto contributed to the February 2017 adoption of a constitutional amendment raising the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years.

Since becoming Chief, Chief Kachindamoto has annulled 3,500 child marriages in the central region of Malawi and has helped girls complete their education, often by subsidising their schooling.

17-year-old Bernadetta Matison was one girl to have her marriage annulled. Married at 15, she became pregnant in the same year. “I dropped out of school because I got pregnant,” she said. “When I think about it now, I realise that getting married at such a young age isn’t a good thing.

Chief Kachindamoto’s achievements are against all odds—as the first woman leader in her village and in a village where child marriage is deeply embedded in cultural practice, her fight for cultural change has required determination, leadership and persistence.