Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in the Dedza District of Central Malawi, is known as the "marriage terminator."
She has put an end to over 850 child marriages in just three years.
Kachindamoto is known for her forceful action in dissolving child marriages and insisting on education for both girls and boys.
She worked as a secretary at a city college in Zomba, a district in Southern Malawi, for 27 years. Although she had the blood of chiefs running through her veins, as the youngest of 12 siblings and a mother of five, Kachindamoto never expected to become a senior chief to the more than 900,000 people in Dedza.
She had been chosen because she was "good with people." After becoming the senior chief, it upset Kachindamoto to see 12 year olds being served up as child brides. It shocked her to see countless young, adolescent girls with babies of their own. In rural areas of Malawi, some parents are eager to marry off girls as young as 12.
So, as the district's new chief, she decided to protect these girls by terminating their marriages, empowering them through education and making her entire community healthier.
She began simply with a firm NO to child marriage.
Then she kept saying no. And in three years she refused to grant more than 850 child marriages, sending hundreds of young girls back to school to complete their education.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” Kachindamoto said. “They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”
A 2012 United Nations survey found that more than half of Malawi's girls were married before the age of 18. It ranked Malawi 8th out of 20 countries thought to have the highest child-marriage rates in the world.
In 2015 Malawi's parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18, but the law falls on the deaf ears of some parents as some Malawian children can still marry with parental consent.
When Kachindamoto found out that child marriages were still taking place in some areas, she fired four male chiefs responsible for these areas. Her resistance and defiance to the draconian tradition has also made her the target of death threats, but she doesn't care.
"I don't care, I don't mind. I've said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school," she said in an interview to Al Jazeera.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Anthony Asael/Art in All of Us / Contributor/ Getty Images