Malawi has made a commitment to amend its conflicting laws on the definition of a child, a move that will help in the fight against child marriage.
Malawi’s constitution and the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act define a child as a person below 16 years. But Malawi is also party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, both of which define a child as anyone below 18. Another domestic law, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, defines a child as a person below 18.
Child marriage is common in Malawi – almost half of all girls marry before they are 18, especially girls between 16 and 18. Harmonizing all laws to define a child as anyone under 18 would help reduce marriage in this critical group.
When I interviewed magistrates, police officers, and child protection workers in 2014, I found that most did not recognize 16 and 17-year-olds as children because they followed the definition of a child in the constitution. That means that children between 16 and 18 years old are being left out of services and protections they are entitled to as children.