Despite stakeholders’ best efforts, cases of unprepared for pregnancy and early marriage continue unabated. As SERAH CHILORA writes, Mwanza is one of the Southern Region districts that are bearing the brunt of the vice.
Nineteen-year-old Ulemu Domi from Kagonamwake Village, Traditional Authority Nthache, in Mwanza District harboured grand ambitions.
“I wanted to get educated and become a role model to girls in my area,” she said.
It was not to be; at least temporarily.
She fell prey to marauding men who ended up impregnating her.
Back in the village, where motorcycle taxi operators yield wads of cash after a long day’s work, it is becoming increasingly difficult for resource-constrained girls to resist the cash.
That is how Domi found herself caught between a rock and a hard place.
She simply dropped out of Thawe Community Day Secondary School.
“When I realised that, at 17 years, I was pregnant, the man who was responsible for my predicament came here and started staying with me.
“However, after sometime, he started disowning the pregnancy. Before long, he started ill-treating me and, eventually, we parted ways.
“At this point, my mother started encouraging me to go back to school,” she said.
At 19 years, she is back in school.
“Of course, it was not easy. Some students bullied me while others laughed at me. However, I told myself not to give up. At 19 years, I have the whole future ahead of me and it is not too late for me to meet my education aspirations,” Domi said.
But getting back to school after being out for sometime has its own challenges. For one, there is a lot of ground to cover, in terms of catching up with others.
To the Mwanza-based mother of one, this manifested during the administration of last year’s Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations.
“When I sat Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations last year, I did not do well.
“However, I am not about to give up. I will give it [examinations’ sitting] another try. My marriage did not last and I thank God I left with just one child,” she said, adding that she has been rebuffing her ex’s attempts for them to get back together.
Domi is not the only one from her village to escape largely unscathed from the jaws of early marriage and pregnancy.
Nineteen-year-old Thokozani Bazilo from the same village and twenty-three-year old Mary Wota from Kagulu Village are typical examples.
Wota fell pregnant at the age of 17 and, for two years, served as wife until abuses she was suffering at the hands of her husband became too much to handle.
“The marriage started after I got pregnant and, for a time, things seemed to work out— until the man started physically and emotionally abusing me. There is a limit to abuse and I simply had suffered enough of it,” she said.
Today, marriage is a bygone as Wota is back in school.
According to findings of a 2019 United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund report, titled ‘Budget Scooping on Programmes and Interventions to End Child Marriage in Malawi’, only 45 percent of girls stay in school beyond standard eight.
With approximately 42 percent of girls married before the age of 18 and 9 percent below the age of 15, Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
The report further notes that Malawi has the fourth-highest child marriage rate in East and Southern Africa.
This runs counter to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
Fortunately for girls in Mwanza, some traditional leaders have taken it upon themselves to ensure that girls that fell prey to early marriage or pregnancy go back to school.
One of the cultural custodians, Group Village Head Kagonamwake, said he encouraged girls to accomplish their education goals before settling for marriage.
“We have realised that some parents marry off girls because they want the men to be giving them something, in terms of financial and material resources.
“However, it is not fashionable anymore to have girls married off so that the men should be bringing something to the parents. We, as chiefs, are promoting girl-child education by, among other steps, discouraging girls from marrying follow up on those that have married at a tender age and encourage them to return to school,” he said. at a tender age. We also
Civil Society Education Coalition National Director Benedicto Kondowe said it was unfortunate that girls continued to drop out of school after being impregnated, urging policymakers to put in place necessary infrastructure to facilitate girls’ education.
In March this year, the Ministry of Education indicated that it was erecting standard infrastructures in its bid to promote access to education services.
Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje said there were countless schools across the country that had to be rehabilitated.
She indicated that there were plans to have a capital investment plan that would be inserted into Malawi (Mw) 2063 so that education sector infrastructure improvements would be an on-going process.
“The investment will help in improving quality of infrastructure so that it becomes embedded in the long-term plan that would see the purpose achieved.
“We need to have a plan that, once we start implementing it, whoever is in charge should continue with it. That is why we will put it in the Mw2063, where Malawians have spoken,” she said.
NyaLonje indicated that the country had over 5,000 primary schools and over 1,500 secondary schools that did not have quality facilities.
Only when the necessary infrastructure is in place will girls find no justification for falling pregnant, let alone dropping out of school.