We’ve never heard of a hero quite like Theresa Kachindamoto.
Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 children descended from village chiefs in Malawi’s Monkey Bay. When it finally came time for her to take her place as senior chief – after spending 27 years as a secretary at a city college – she dedicated herself fully to ending the practice of child marriage among her people.
Kachindamoto never expected to become chief since she lived in a different town, had so many older siblings, and had 5 of her own children to care for. But her reputation as “good with people” led to her surprise election and her people told her she would have the job “whether I liked it or not”, she recalled.
While child marriage is a culturally accepted practice in the area and often the result of financial need, it’s also illegal as of 2015, though that did not put a stop to the practice since children could still be married with parental consent.
But Kachindamoto decided that she would no longer stand for a tradition that robbed young girls of their childhoods by turning them into wives and mothers long before they were 18.
While touring Monkey Bay to meet the people she would govern, she met girls as young as 12 with husbands and children.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.’”
During her time as chief of more than 900,000 people, she annulled 850 child marriages and sent all of the girls to school.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and a 2012 United Nations survey found that over half of the country’s girls were married before the age of 18.
There are organizations around Malawi that work to warn parents about the dangers of early marriage and childbirth, but parents are often so poor that they can’t afford to house and feed their daughters, so they feel like they have no choice but to marry them off.
But child marriage and pregnancy is a horrifying practice that often results in complications in childbirth because little girls’ bodies are simply too small to give birth safely.