Theresa Kachindamoto had never held the ambition to become chief.
She lived in a different town and had multiple older siblings. But despite that, her reputation for being “good with people” secured her an unexpected election. In the end, she was informed that she will get the job “whether I like it or not”.
And so, this kind-hearted woman became senior chief, and immediately brought an end to the practice of child marriage among her community.
Having been a widely accepted cultural practice in the area, many parents had previously married their children off at a young age, usually for financial reasons.
Kachindamoto was determined to take a stand against the tradition which took teenage girls and made them wives and mothers long before the age of 18.
When she visited the area of Monkey Bay, the chief met with girls as young as 12 who had both children and husbands.
To this she responded by saying:
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.’”
Kachindamoto used her role to nullify more than 1500 child marriages since 2017, sending the girls who were married off before being able to complete their education back to school.
She took a bold step towards ending poverty in Malawi, where a 2017 UN statistic suggested that about 45% of young girls are unable to remain in school past eighth grade.
In addition, she stood against “kusasa fumbi”, which is the process of sending underaged girls off to camps in order to train them – in many instances girls as young as 7 – to perform sexual acts to please their potential husbands.
Kachindamoto threatened to remove any chief from power who allowed this practice, changing the laws that were affecting the way people were able to act.
At one point she had no choice but to fire four chiefs in areas where child marriages were still happening, as well as getting 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement abolishing the practice of early marriage.
For this, Kachindamoto received death threats:
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school.”
“I’m chief until I die,” she laughingly said.
For a more in-depth look at Kachinmadoto’s fight against the practice of child marriage, you can watch the short documentary below: