#TheresaKachindamoto was the youngest of 12 children born into a family of chiefs. Theresa was shocked when she saw girls as young as 12 with babies and teenaged husbands, and was soon ordering the people to give up their ways

“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.’”

The litany of sexually abusive traditions here include sending girls bound for marriage away to camps for “kusasa fumbi” – which means cleansing.

Reportedly at these sexual initiation camps , the girls are taught ‘how to please men’ by performing titillating dances and sex acts. Some “graduate” only by having sex with the teacher. Others return home untouched, only to be preyed on by a local “hyena” – men hired by parents to take their girls’ virginity, or by prospective husbands to impregnate them.

According to Kachindamoto, who has banned these kinds of cleansing rituals, girls as young as seven are sometimes sent to these places.

“I said to the chiefs that this must stop, or I will dismiss them,” Kahindamoto says.

Realising that she couldn’t change the traditionally set mentality of parents, Kachindamoto instead changed the law.

She got her 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to abolish early marriage under customary law, and annul any existing unions in her area of authority.

When she learned that child marriages were still taking place in some areas, she fired four male chiefs responsible for these areas. They returned months later to tell her that all marriages had been undone. After sending people to verify this, she hired the chiefs back.

She then drew community members, the clergy, local committees and charities together to pass a bylaw that banned early marriage under the civil law.

Over the past three years, Kachindamoto has broken up more than 850 marriages, and sent all of the children involved back to school.

Kachindamoto says she often pays for, or finds other sponsors to pay for, the schooling of girls whose parents cannot afford to pay school fees.

#TheresaKachindamoto you are #UPP

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