1 October 2013

Malawi: Dealing With Early Marriages Through Adolescent Corners

The government of Malawi should increase efforts to end widespread child and forced marriage, or risk worsening poverty, illiteracy, and preventable ... ( Resource: Call to End Child Marriage in Malawi )

Nkhota kota, October 1, 2013: In life we make bold decisions which shape our future. For Lusungu Chikoya, she says going back to school after teenage pregnancy is one of the bold decisions she has made in her life.

Chikoya says after fellow girls from Chombo Adolescent Corner advocated for the need for school drop-outs to go back to school, she thought it wise of utilising the message after she dropped out of school in 2011 due to pregnancy.

The 17-year-old says peer pressure and poverty contributed to the pregnancy when she was in Standard 7.

"I was in relationship with a certain boy at Chombo Primary School so that he should be providing me with my needs like soap but I ended up getting pregnant," she says.

Chikoya says after falling pregnant, she was just staying with her parents and looking after her child because the boy who impregnated her could not afford looking after her.

She says when fellow girls at the adolescent corner encouraged her to go back to school; she abided to the call after realising that education is key to success.

"I informed my parents of my plans and they gave a nod. When I went to the school, fellow learners, the head-teacher and class teachers also welcomed me.

"I am continuing with my education and I am expected to sit for Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC) examinations this academic year," says Chikoya.

Lozi Youth Organisation Executive Director Wanangwa Harawa says the organisation established the adolescent corners in nine primary schools including at Chombo and Lozi Secondary School to assist in dealing with early marriages in area of Traditional Authority Mphonde in Nkhotakota.

Harawa says the adolescent corners are part of 'Tsogolo Langa Project' which was rolled out following baseline survey which established that early marriages are a concern in the area.

"The survey revealed that there is a gap whereby parents are not open to their children including girls in terms of sexual and reproductive health.

"Most of the girls get the information from school. The gap is wide for the girls not going to school. Thus, the project is addressing that gap to assist those living in rural areas," says Harawa.

In addition, in Malawi while net enrolment rate for primary education is high at 91 per cent, completion rates are low with a combined rate for boys and girls of 35 per cent.

Disparities abound between girls in standard 6 at adolescent stage whereby only less than 25 per cent transcend to post primary education.

Women across Africa are also becoming more empowered, with more girls attending both primary and secondary school, and more women in positions of political power.

But cultural practices such as early marriage and low economic opportunities for women are slowing progress.

The executive director says in adolescent corners, girls meet and share knowledge in order to deal with adolescent pregnancy and motivate each other to excel in their education.

"In these adolescent corners, there are role models who were trained on adolescence, gender, HIV and AIDS and they relay the same message to fellow peers.

"In selection of these role models, we went to open ground together with the head teachers and village heads who chose their own girls to be role models," says Harawa.

Khadija Banda is a role model at Lozi Secondary School who resumed school after falling pregnant while waiting for Junior Certificate (JC) results but it turned out that she passed the examinations.

Banda says she holds group sessions called 'Chimnzake' on the importance of education and conducting door-to-door meetings targeting those who dropped out of school to encourage them to go back to school.

"We also sensitize the parents on the need for their children to continue with education. We then make a follow-up to make sure that the girls are assisted.

"Some parents complain that when their children go back to school they will not afford paying for their school fees. We hand over them to Lozi Youth Organisation to liaise with district social welfare office to assist them," says Banda.

Harawa says upon receiving such complaints apart from liaising with district social welfare office, they also talk to head-teachers to allow these parents to be paying the fees in instalments while allowing the children to be learning.

"Sometimes Lozi Youth Organization pays part of their fees just to make sure that the girls continue with their education," says Harawa.

The executive director says he is proud that the role models are doing their part in message delivery and in rescuing fellow girls from early marriages because 11 girls have been rescued from early marriages within a year.

Violet Kamange, 20, who dropped out of school in 2009 due to pregnancy, is among those rescued and assisted to go back to school.

Kamange says following getting pregnant, she dropped out of school while in standard 8 and began marriage life by residing at the home of her husband.

"My husband has been involved in business whereby he was ordering goods in Mozambique and selling them in Malawi.

"However, our marriage lasted for only one year because in July 2010 my husband went to Mozambique for good and has never come back," says Kamange.

Following this development, the girl ventured in piecework to earn a living. She then complained to her parents to go back to her roots but her parents told her to stay put.

"After noting that there was no light at the end of the tunnel but perpetual financial hardships, I made up my mind and went back to my roots.

"There, I told my parents that I wanted to go back to school but they attempted to put me off by responding that my motive of resuming school was to find other boyfriends at the school and not to learn," she says.

Kamange says she was included as a beneficiary of Tsogolo Langa Project and was encouraged to resume school. She says then she just stormed Lunga Primary School and told headteacher that she wanted to resume school. "I am happy that I resumed school but it's a lesson to me and my fellow girls that we should not be taken up by early marriages because they will lead us nowhere but we must concentrate on education.

"I'm a living testimony to that and I do not want my fellows to succumb to same situation I have faced. For instance, I currently have to share time for school and for looking after my child," says Kamange.

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