Mulanje — Some learners from Traditional Authority (T/A) Juma in Mulanje have appealed to authorities to put in place child protection measures to counter the rise of teenage pregnancies which contribute to early marriages.
The learners made the appeal over the weekend during an interface meeting organized by Malawi Girl Guides Association (MAGGA) under the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) project.
Among others, the meeting attracted student representatives, area development committee (ADC) members, officials from social welfare and police.
One of the learners, Jenipher Lipekwa, 19, a Standard Seven learner at Namphungo Primary School said poverty and lack of strong by-laws were some of the factors that negatively impact their education.
"For most of us, our parents do not have enough money to provide most basic necessities like clothes, books and food; as such, we are forced to fend for ourselves by engaging in promiscuous behaviors with older men who entice us with money," Lipekwa said.
"The absence of strong by-laws to protect us has also left many girls vulnerable as older men take advantage of the situation to sexually abuse us," she added.
Lipekwa, therefore, appealed to authorities to find lasting solutions to their problems, saying this would create an enabling environment for them to excel in school and complete their education so that they can be productive citizens in future.
In his remarks, T/A Juma said it was worrisome that over 200 girls had entered into early marriages or that they have been impregnated during the Covid-19 crisis in his area, fearing that the development may retard development.
Juma said this was the reason he was working with various community structures like youth clubs, mother groups and VDCs to encourage the youth to refrain from wayward behaviors which could distract them from school.
"We are glad that government has allowed girls who have been impregnated during the suspension of school due to Covid-19 to return to school and sit for national exams. We will ensure that they all have returned," he said.
District Assistant Social Welfare Officer for Mulanje, Biswick Mchenga said a recent study conducted by the district child protection committee revealed that 1,832 under 18 girls have either been impregnated or forced into early marriage from March to September this year across the district.
Mchenga said following the revelations, the sector is working with various partners at both district and community level to do follow-ups and withdraw the girl-child from marriage, adding that so far, they have managed to rescue 19 girls in T/A Juma.
"For those that are pregnant, we are advising parents to take care of them until they deliver and to care for the baby so that the girl can go back to school and complete her education," he said.
Mchenga, however, lamented that some parents are not committed to seeing their children return to school as they are hiding age information about their children during case follow-ups, noting that the tendency makes their work difficult.
Reacting to the issue of by-laws, Mchenga said the previous ones the area had were obsolete and conflicting with the constitution of the country; hence, the council is in the process of developing new ones that will be all-encompassing.
"In the meantime, we need collaborative efforts in eradicating early marriages and following up on defilement cases so that perpetrators are brought to justice," he said.
Speaking earlier, a representative of MAGGA, Paul Chasukwa said the meeting was important as it gave the youth a chance to voice out their concerns to the duty bearers so that they could work out solutions together at community level.
"The goal of the AGYW project is to reduce incidences of HIV and Aids among adolescent girls and young women among others and we are pleased that local leaders have joined the fight," Chasukwa said.