Teenage husband arrested for murdering pregnant wife

A 19-year-old teenager, Anderson Chiwala, from eastern Malawi’s district of Machinga has been arrested for allegedly murdering his 20-year-old pregnant wife, Ester Usuman.

Some of the couple's neighbours said they had engaged in physical fights, despite the condition of the wife.

Usuman fell ill after being beaten by her husband and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

A police officer in the district, John Gwaza, said medical examinations revealed that the deceased sustained serious internal injuries during a physical assault.

According to Gwaza, the teenage husband would face murder charges.

Bizwick Chimumba, a relative of the deceased wife, said the two had married two years ago when both of them were teenagers.

"There are always challenges when people marry at a young age," he said.

Child marriages

Despite government efforts to end them, child marriages involving people under the age of 18 are still common in Malawi.

Information Minister Patricia Kaliati said that child marriages were common in rural areas, but said government was fighting hard to end the problem.

She said Malawi had annulled 300 000 child marriages and sent most teenage brides back to schools last year.

"Vigorous campaigns by the government officials, civil society groups, traditional leaders and churches have borne sweet fruits. About 300 000 child marriages were dissolved last year," Kaliati said.

Kaliati also attributed the achievement to the enactment of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act which has pushed the marriage age from 16 to 18.

Despite the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act pegging the marriage age at 18, conflicting legislation made the minimum age of marriage ambiguous in Malawi.

The provisions of the act could not overwrite the Constitution, which stipulated that girls and boys aged 15 to 18 could marry with parental consent.

Source of income

The contradiction arises as the Malawi constitution does not specifically prohibit the marriage of children under 15, but merely directed the government to "discourage" them.

Child marriages were regarded as a source of income, as the girls’ families got payment of dowry (lobola).

Government statistics showed that between 2010 and 2013, at least 28 000 girls in primary schools and 4 053 in secondary schools dropped out due to marriage. During the same period, another 14 051 primary school girls and 5 597 secondary school girls dropped out because they were pregnant.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly urged Malawi to increase efforts to end widespread child and forced marriage, or risk worsening poverty, illiteracy and preventable maternal deaths.

HRW’s 69-page report titled, I’ve Never Experienced Happiness: Child Marriage in Malawi, observed that child marriage prevented girls and women from participating in all spheres of life.

"The practice violates the rights to health, to education, to be free from physical, mental, and sexual violence, and to marry only when able and willing to give free and full consent," read the report.
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