Alinafe’s heart soared with hopes and dreams of becoming a nurse. As a 15-year-old student leader at the top of her class in Malawi, Africa, details were aligning for her to accomplish her professional goal.
After being orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, relatives provided for her care. When she turned 16, Alinafe found herself in a marriage to a man 20 years her senior that she had never met. Although Alinafe made academics a priority, her uncle decided marriage would be a secure path for Alinafe’s future.
Because of systemic poverty, Malawi families sell girls into marriage partly in an effort to provide for them and partly to generate assets or income for themselves. Men usually approach a girl’s family member and offer five to 10 cows or goats, or the equivalent in a monetary sum, in exchange for marriage.
The girls have few options. If they do not agree to a proposed marriage, they face exile from the tribe. And those living outside their tribe can only support themselves through prostitution.
According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children Report, approximately 1 in 2 girls are married by the age of 18, ranking Malawi as 12th in the world for the highest rates of child marriage.
The Parliament, seeded with 32 women members, actively seeks solutions to end child marriage and even voted to change the legal age for marriage from 15 to 18 in February 2017. Prior to 2015, girls as young as 8 years old could be sold into marriage by a family member.
With the laws in place, forced marriages happen infrequently in cities but they are prevalent in rural areas.
In Alinafe’s rural village of Kenyenyeva, forced marriage is the norm and she did not have the means to create an alternate path for herself.
According to Shadreck Chikoti, a prominent African author, forced marriages happen because of tradition and the society doesn’t see it as a problem. “It needs to be changed by the chiefs,” he said.
Current Kenyenyeva Village Chief Felesyia Mikison recently blocked her second husband from forcing her daughter into marriage. Many have hoped she will help change customs around forced marriage.
The village elders support the cultural and legal changes necessary to empower youth in completing their professional goals. Village Elder Esnat Kumbayake partners with Malawi Orphan Care Project (MOCP), which has an office in Mansfield. The nonprofit supports a variety of projects in Malawi to help orphaned children and their caregivers including funding scholarships for elementary and high school students.
Award-winning film company, leapyear, inc., will document the lives of Alinafe as well as Genevieve, who remains in school on a scholarship but is vulnerable to forced marriage due to her age.
Though leapyear, inc. and Malawi Orphan Care Project have collaborated before, this will be an ambitious undertaking. Filmmakers Andy Gardner and Jennifer Enskat will travel to Malawi in mid-August to interview Kumbayake, Mikison, members of parliament, and Bertha Chiudza, a renowned gender activist with Oxfam. Chiudza will even introduce the filmmakers to young women who will speak about how they were able to get out of their forced marriages.
This film, “The Bride Price,” aims to help change the perception of forced and arranged marriages in Malawi.
“We will cover the lack of enforcement of the new law and explore how the politicians and social activists are working to change perceptions of traditional customs in the tribal villages,” Enskat said.
The film will strive to create a system and ongoing funding for girls to continue their schooling and support themselves. With entry into various film festivals, the message will reach a global audience.
Opportunities to support this life-changing project include giving through the secure online platform, or attending one of two upcoming fundraisers:
June 24 from 3:30 to 5:50 p.m.
A casual, get together with music by Ricky Mitchell; craft pizza, cash bar and lottery prizes featuring emcee Tommy Barnes.
Relax, It’s Just Coffee
July 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
A silent auction with a selection of Malawian coffees and desserts from Blackbird Bakery.
The Life & Culture section is powered by University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.