By Bayana Chunga
It is about mid-day and a group of girls is trudging down from Matope Primary School. They cover long distances buffeted by the hot rays of the Neno sun.
From their faces, you can tell that they are hungry and weak. It is this position of need that the Kabaza (bicycle taxi) businessman is looking for to exploit. With a little offer of money, these vulnerable girls stand as prey in his business route.
Meet Luntha (not real name), a 17-year-old girl who swallowed a kabaza businessman’s bait. The bait came in the form of a package of occasional gifts and money. In return, the kabaza businessman demanded sexual intimacy.
But that is not all. A few months down the line, the down side of the package was unveiled. Luntha fell pregnant. After abortive attempts to disguise the changing body, she could not help it but tell a soul – her mother.
Luntha was supported by her parents to continue attending classes until she was seven months pregnant. In the last trimester of her pregnancy, she had a real taste of what stigma is all about. She quit school and gave up on education.
On April 7 2020, Luntha became a mother to a bouncy baby boy. The father of the child is nowhere to be seen.
Luntha’s parents help in providing for the baby. Months down the line, the Pastors Fraternal, a grouping of pastors alongside a World Vision Malawi (WVM) volunteer, visited Luntha to offer her a word of encouragement.
Elise Chitsulo, a WVM volunteer, did not give up on Luntha. She frequently paid the young mother visits to encourage her to return to school.
In the summer of 2020, Luntha was back, sitting on a desk at Matope Primary School.
She, however, knew that it would not be easy.
“There were times my breast would start leaking milk while I was in class. It was not easy,” Luntha confessed.
The stigma escalated.
“They started calling me instead of calling me by my first name,” Luntha said. Thankfully, the WVM support system did not abandon her. She was encouraged to stand and concentrate on her school while raising her son.
Matope Primary School Head teacher, Dyson Chazungu, considers Luntha’s return to school as a story of hope.
“This young girl was impregnated by a kabaza businessman but— through the help of World Vision alongside Parents Teachers Association, Pastors Fraternal and mothers support group— we managed to bring her back to school. I am simply happy,” he retorted.
WVM is synonymous with ending child marriages and encouraging girls to go back to school after either marriage or pregnancy.
Luntha’s story is testament of this organisation’s conviction.
At least 27 girls out of 38 girls who were in child marriages have returned to their parents’ homes and gone back to school in Matope area, where WVM people are on the ground. This area is under Traditional Authority Simon in Neno District.
These are not mere statistics; these are young lives who were cut off from the right of education but now have an opportunity to achieve their academic dreams.
“WVM, working collaboratively with ministries of Education and Gender in an ending child marriages campaign, insists that all children must return to school and nobody should be left at home. The idea is that all children, despite their condition, return to school,” said Charles Gwengwe, WVM Advocacy and Communications Director.
He described the recalling of young girls back to school as a smart investment.
“Educating girls is not only a human rights obligation but also smart investment. WVM understands child marriages can be addressed through education and that is why we encourage investments in girls’ education as a critical strategy to end child marriages and support girls who are married or got pregnant,” he said.
Today, Luntha admits her mistake and pledges to work hard in school to realise her goals in life. She even plays the role of advocate, warning her peers in the school about the dangers of giving in to sexual pressures and early marriages.
“I have no time for boyfriends anymore. I just want to work hard in school and achieve economic independence. I want to make my parents proud,” Luntha said.