It has been a year since 19-year-old Stella Chipote of Chigumula Township in Blantyre dropped out of school after falling pregnant while in form four at Bangwe Secondary school in the city.
Life has not been easy.
The father of the child, a fellow student, did not accept responsibility for the pregnancy.
“I dropped out the year I was supposed to finish my secondary school education and the fact that the father of the child denied the pregnancy did not help matters,” Stella says.
Now, after delivering the baby, she is ready to go back to school notwithstanding various challenges she is facing as a young mother.
Elsewhere at Nkhuku-10 village in Bangwe Blantyre, 18-year-old Maureen Bauleni also has a baby after falling pregnant early last year. She was in standard eight that time.
She thinks of going back to school but fears the stigma and discrimination young mothers face when they make that important decision.
In essence, the two young mothers are just examples of girls who are falling pregnant every year in Malawi, before they are ready to become mothers.
Malawi has one of the highest rates of early marriages and teenage pregnancy in the world, with about half of girls marrying before their 18th birthdays, according to reports.
The closure of schools early last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation.
Stella and Maureen say as young mothers, they continue facing a lot of challenges in their day-to-day lives.
If it is not economic challenges, then it is the stigma associated with bearing children at a very young age.
“First, people mock us, thinking that we are not upright and then there is lack of finances for us to adequately take care of our children,” Stella says.
Maureen, too, whose mother—a tailor—takes care of the baby, says life is not easy.
“I have nothing to do to make enough money so that I should take care of my child. Although, the father of my baby accepted responsibility, he does not work and does not have any business to support us. So, I live with my mother,” Maureen says.
Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) has been undertaking initiatives aimed at economically empowering young mothers like Maureen and Stella.
Among others, the organisation has been training the young mothers in Blantyre’s peri-urban areas on how to speak up against various social and economic injustices they face in their daily lives.
Through a global project, Her Voice Fund, which is funded by ViiV Healthcare Positive Action and implemented by GNP+ and Y+ (Global Network of Young People Living with HIV), YWCA has been working with the young mothers to break social norms so that they are aware of their rights and privileges, apart from improving their capacity and appraise their needs and those of the population in general.
YWCA Malawi Boar d President Mtisunge Kachingwe says early pregnancies and bearing children at a tender age have for a long time subjected women to social injustices.
Kachingwe says child-bearing at a tender age also exposes young mothers to health challenges such as fistula.
“This is why we need these trainings so that young mothers know their rights and are empowered with knowledge on how to speak against the injustices they face. They should become agents of change in their communities,” Kachingwe says.
She also says such trainings provide a platform for the young mothers to share experiences after undergoing difficulties both during pregnancy and child-bearing.
“We now empower them so that they train others who have not gone through those challenges on how they can avoid them. We need to appreciate that young women are exposed to such challenges partly due to their economic statuses,” Kachingwe states.
The goal of the Her Voice Fund is to develop young women leaders who can engage and advocate to leaders at community and district level apart from collecting and amplifying voices of the challenges young women face.
I n Malawi, YWCA’s diverse range of community programmes touching on economic empowerment, sexual reproductive health and rights and ending child marriages, among other areas, reach hundreds of people each year in rural and urban areas.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.