By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British actress Emma Watson condemned child marriage during a visit to Malawi on Monday, calling on authorities across Africa to end the practice that can put young lives as risk as well as stopping girls get an education and a better future.
Watson, 26, a goodwill ambassador for UN Women, was visiting the southeastern African nation a day ahead of the International Day of the Girl Child.
In 2015, Malawi passed a law to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 with UN Women working with traditional chiefs to change local practices.
"Meeting with young girls, who like many in their country, are struggling with poverty and were pressured into early marriage ... made me realize just how important it is for women to be able to make their own choices," Watson said in a statement.
"It's so encouraging to see how such a harmful practice can be stopped when communities work together," added the actress who rose to fame as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series.
U.N. data shows that globally, one-third of girls in developing countries, excluding China, are married before the age of 18, denying them their childhood and right to go to school.
Even though Malawi has now made child marriage illegal, campaigners have voiced concerns that marriages regulated by custom can occur informally.
During her visit, Watson met with traditional leaders who have championed the annulment of child marriages in their communities.
Worldwide, 15 million girls are married as children every year, according to UK-based campaign group Girls Not Brides.
Campaigners say child marriage deprives girls of an education, increases the risk of domestic violence, death or serious injuries if they have children before their bodies are ready.
Yet the practice persists because some societies view girls as a financial burden while others believe a girl should marry as early as possible to maximize her fertility.
In July, Gambia became the 13th nation in Africa to join the African Union's campaign to end child marriage, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of the practice. [ID: nL8N19T4NI]
The International Day of the Girl Child, on Oct. 11, is a day declared by the United Nations to promote girls' human rights.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)