Malawi: Human Rights Watch’s Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Human rights watch writes in advance of the 86th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the “Committee”) and its review of Malawi under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This submission focuses on teenage pregnancy and child marriage, government-endorsed online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the right to free and compulsory education.

1,000 girls and women ages 15-19. This is higher than the regional rate in East and Southern Africa of 94 per 1,000 and more than three times the world rate of 41 per 1,000. Government data from 2019-2020 indicates that 43 percent of women ages 20-49 got married before the age of 18, and 11 percent did so before the age of 15. Pregnancy is both a barrier to girls continuing their education and often a consequence of girls dropping out of school. Numerous studies have shown that the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married as a child or become pregnant during her teenage years.

In 2017, Malawi removed from its constitution a provision allowing children between the ages of 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent, thereby aligning the minimum age of marriage with the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, a 2015 law that sets 18 as the minimum age of marriage.

Malawi has adopted a school readmission policy (introduced in 1993 and revised in 2016) to ensure that pregnant girls can resume their education after giving birth. It provides that girls are not allowed to remain in school while pregnant but are expected to return to school one year after giving birth. Students, their parents or guardians, and the school’s head teacher are expected to fill in a standard school “dropout and readmission” form detailing both processes. This provision replaced a previous and more complex requirement for students to submit letters to education officials. Malawi also provides students readmitted after pregnancy with counseling and psychosocial as well as remedial academic support.

Malawi’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2019-2020 indicates that 15 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 who are currently married or in union, and almost 50 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 who are sexually active and currently unmarried or not in union, have an unmet need for family planning.

Abortion in Malawi is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, except to preserve the pregnant person’s life. In 2021, Malawi’s parliament withdrew from debate the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which would have eased restrictions on access to abortion in the country.

Ryan Banda

Source: HRW

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