Malawi’s  “Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Law” came into effect today, and will impact LGBT Malawians.

The law, signed by the country’s President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday, strengthens definitions of marriage and co-habiting relationships as being between a man and a woman. and prevents any other form of relationship from gaining legal recognition.

It also defines a person’s sex as “determined at birth”, hence sex, for the purpose of marriage, will continue to be regarded as one’s sex at birth.

The lawstates: “Such a determination of sex at birth avoids any potential problems caused by transsexuals or persons who have undergone sex-changing surgery later in life from marrying a person, prior to that sex-changing surgery was of the same sex as them.”

The law also mentions gay sex as being comparable to rape and sexual harassment.

While human rights groups have praised provisions in the bill that change the minimum age for marriage to 18, which is intended to help prevent child marriage, they have condemned the harsh restrictions for LGBT people.

Jessica Stern, executive director of The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said: “It’s appalling that a law that attempts to address a serious human rights abuse like child and forced marriage would then also target Malawians for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It is stunning that the United Nations so far has been unwilling to state unequivocally that it rejects the discriminatory aspects of this law.

“It’s especially distressing because these discriminatory provisions discredit a bill that otherwise would provide much needed protection for girls—including gender non-conforming girls—from early and forced marriages.”