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Girls, Not Brides

Every year, some 15 million girls are married before the age of 18, and their plight is all too often ignored. Girls should not be left to fight this battle on their own. Governments need to establish laws that set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, leaving no room for exceptions such as traditional practices or parental consent.

OXFORD – When Memory Banda’s younger sister was forced to marry at just 11 years old, Memory became determined to ensure that no more girls had to experience her sister’s fate. Since then, this remarkable young woman from rural Malawi has helped to persuade her government to raise the minimum age of marriage across her country, and is blazing a trail for girls that we all should follow.

Memory’s sister became pregnant during a traditional sexual “cleansing ceremony,” a rite of passage in some parts of Malawi that is supposed to prepare pubescent girls for womanhood and marriage. She was forced to marry the father of her unplanned child, a man in his early 30s, and was burdened with all the responsibilities of adulthood. Now 16, she is raising three children alone; she has been unable to return to school.

The incident inspired Memory to push for a better future for girls. She became involved with a local grassroots group, Girls Empowerment Network, joining other young women and civil-society groups across Malawi to urge village authorities and parliamentary ministers to put an end to child marriages. Last month, Memory’s efforts – along with those of thousands of others – paid off, when Malawi’s government enacted a new law that sets the minimum age for marriage at 18.