A young girl’s dream of becoming a nurse was nearly completely shuttered by irregular, painful and prolonged menstrual cycles and counsel from people in her village. ERICK MSIKITI finds out.
Thandeka, now 21 years old, from Phalombe District, was advised by people in her village to sleep with a boy to ‘cure’ her menstrual anomalies.
She fell pregnant while in standard eight four years ago, at 17 years.
“I was experiencing severe pain and sometimes I would even faint whenever I began my menstrual period. Some people in my village advised me that such pain would go away if I slept with a boy,” Thandeka narrates.
It was too late when her parents realised they needed to take her to the hospital.
Healthcare workers at the health centre close to where she lives were clueless about the kind of treatment to administer on her.
“They referred me to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital to have some of my ovaries removed but, upon arrival, we were told that they could not perform the procedure because I was already pregnant,” Thandeka explains.
Falling pregnant exposed her to stigma and discrimination.
Her mates frequently called her a prostitute or starkly excluded her from some activities, saying she was no longer their folk but a woman ready to give birth and start a family.
Some of her friends’ parents even advised their daughters to stay away from Thandeka, saying she would poison their minds.
At home, she even faced more pressure.
“My parents, particularly my father, stopped supporting me with my education. I was due to sit my Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations,” she narrates.
Her mother eventually came around and offered to support her sit the examinations while she was five-months pregnant.
She was selected to a community day secondary school in her area.
But her father’s old cynicism was back and nearly prevented her from going on with her education despite that she had already delivered her child.
“A group of women working to support girls’ education approached my father after I had approached them. They convinced him to start supporting my secondary education,” she says.
Her story is typical of what other girls go through in their communities.
While she is still progressing with her education, in Form Four now, she still faces challenges as she has to balance between attending classes and breastfeeding her baby.
“It is tough but I know my dream of becoming a nurse will come to pass. Teachers are supportive,” she explains.
When she misses classes, she has to catch up with others by asking her friends to share what they learn.
A teacher at her school says her desire is to see girls who fall pregnant while still young return to school and get the necessary support so that they do not return to their old ways.
She says, apart from helping to rescue girls from early marriages and making sure they return to school after giving birth, female teacher role models also offer distance learning in moments of crisis such as during the Covid pandemic.
“The idea is that girls should learn. There are challenges, yes, but we keep trying. Those who cannot even afford some materials needed in their education are supported,” the teacher says.
Thandeka does not want any other girl to go through what she did.
While she appreciates that girls continue to face challenges in their daily lives, she still hopes concerted efforts can bring smiles on their faces.
“For instance, I would not have fallen pregnant, in the first place, if people in my village did not wrongly advise me to sleep with a boy,” she says.
Thandeka agrees with Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati, who has no kind words for parents who fail to support their daughters or communities that push girls into erroneous decisions.
Kaliati says girls must be protected from early pregnancies at all cost.
“We all know the grave risks that girls face when they fall pregnant. Even child marriages themselves are killing the future of this nation.
“Most girls drop out of school when they fall pregnant. As a result, their engagement in the economy is shattered and women’s expected earnings are reduced,” she says.
She further damns the ‘laidback’ attitudes which allow child marriages and early pregnancies to prevail.
“Our law enforcement agencies have a big stake in ensuring that those who impregnate girls or marry them are dealt with accordingly,” the minister states.
United Nations Children’s Emmergency Fund Country Representative Rudolf Schwenk urges families and societies to change their attitudes towards child marriage and extend opportunities for childhood learning and education by keeping girls in school.
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriages and early pregnancies—some of which are facilitated or overseen by people who were supposed to protect their children.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.