When I reflect on my time as an eighteen year old American teenager I think of college applications, prom and graduation parties. My experience was one of sheltered privilege. In contrast, the girls and young women of Malawi face very different challenges. One of the most notable challenges is the possibility and frequency of child marriage. According to the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 48% of girls in Malawi are married before the age of 18, 9% are married before the age of 15. On average grooms are 5 years older than their brides. The marriages are typically not ones of teenage love and fairy tale romances. Instead, marriages are often arrangements made by family members under the necessity of survival.
It is customary for a groom to negotiate a payment to his bride’s family. Therefore in communities where hunger and starvation is so prevalent often families are forced to make difficult decisions. For example, marriage arrangements are made for a family’s eldest daughter and the payment ensures the family is fed. However, children aren’t meant to be brides. Malawi has recently raised the legal age of marriage to 18 however it hasn’t stopped the problem.
At Restore the Harvest we believe that agriculture has the possibility to change more than just hunger. Repeatedly we have heard in communities that they want to protect their girls from early marriages but families are desperate to meet basic needs for survival. In response, we launched our meat rabbit entrepreneurship projects. Girls and young women who participate in the program attend classes on meat rabbit production and at the completion given grants to purchase their initial rabbits. This allows them to become contributors to their household or earn enough money to pay their own school fees and obtain leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
Our hope is that we can support young women in creating a new path for themselves. A 2017 study found that, 77% of people said that child marriage happens in Malawi because girls lack education or employment opportunities. We hope to change that and instill a spirit of possibility in the girls of Malawi and change the way they are seen within their community. We hope to see a day soon when child marriage is ended on a national scale in Malawi and on a global scale because it is a violation of human rights. Until then, we’re doing what we can where we can to protect the childhood and rights of girls.