Theresa Kachindamoto

Malawi Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto. Photo courtesy UNICEF.

Inkosi Kachindamoto never expected to be chief of her district. The youngest of twelve children, Kachindamoto is also the mother to five of her own.  The chief now presides over 900,000 people and has ended 850 child marriages.

Her mission is to simply get girls back to where they belong: in school, so that they can get an education and live for themselves. The legal age of marriage in Malawi is now 18, which was brought forth by the country’s Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, enacted in April 2015. However, Malawi still has the eighth-highest child marriage rate in the world.

Kachindamoto presides over 50 subchiefs who have agreed to block child marriage. She enforces this by suspending subchiefs who do not comply and has also created a network of parents to keep girls in school and away from domestic work.

Only 45 percent of Malawian girls remain in school beyond middle school. Childhood marriage and pregnancy are the top reason for their extremely high dropout rates. In 2012, the UN Population Fund found that in Malawi, half of girls under age 18 were married.

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