Malawi has passed a law banning child marriage, raising the minimum age to 18 in the southern African country where half of girls end up as child brides.
Women rights campaigners hailed the move as "a great day for Malawian girls" and said the law would help boost development in one of the world's poorest countries. But they warned Malawi would not end child marriage without concerted efforts to tackle poverty and end harmful traditional practices like early sexual initiations.
"This law is extremely crucial because child marriage is a big, big problem in our country," said parliamentarian Jessie Kabwila who helped push for the new legislation. "The country will for the first time clearly articulate that we are saying 'No' to child marriage."
Malawi has one of the world's highest rates of child marriage. Half of girls wed before their 18th birthday and nearly one in eight is married by 15.
Child marriage is deeply entrenched in Malawi's society partly because of a belief that a girl should marry as early as possible to maximize her fertility. Girls are currently allowed to marry at 16, or 15 with parental consent. But many marry much younger.