Rescued from jaws of early marriage
BY CHISOMO PHAIYA, A CONTRIBUTOR
She is only 16 years old. But this did not stop her mother from marrying her off to a Mozambican man double her age.
That is part of the sad story of Mercy Phiri (not real name) from Pulika Village, Chikwawa District.
“I was forced into an early marriage as my mother thought the dowry would eradicate poverty in our family. The man was not only too old for me but he had already divorced three wives before,” Mercy said.
She is a Standard 7 learner at Changa Primary School in Ngabu Zone.
Life has been unfair for her. She lives with a jobless mother who relies on piece works to take care of the family of four.
Her parents divorced and the father married another woman.
The care he rendered to his family was transferred to the new wife, leaving his children and their mother helpless.
Child marriages are rampant in Chikwawa.
According to the 2008 Population and Housing Census projections for 2017, Chikwawa has a population of 566,283 and 46 percent of them are under the age of 15.
The area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu—where Pulika Village is located—has the highest population at 34.39 percent, mainly due to issues bordering on early marriages.
And according to the Fourth Integrated Household Survey conducted in Chikwawa, approximately 27.6 percent households are poor while 39.8 percent are reported to be in ultra-poverty; food insecure, have few or no assets, lack education and suffer from poor health.
This is the case because most of its main economic activity is rain-fed agriculture which has been proven not to be a reliable source of livelihood as the district faces climatic shocks.
It is against this background that Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom) is imp lemen t ing Preven t ion Programmes for Adolescents and Youth, in and out of school popularly known as Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) project in the district, targeting in-school and out-school girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24.
AGYW project works in collaboration with stakeholders such as Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth, Community Development, community leaders, social welfare and Ministry of Education.
Timothy Friendson, a child protection officer from Saopa Village, T/A Ngabu who supports AGYW project in protecting girls’ rights, visited Mercy’s mother after learning that she had dropped out of school.
“I called for the village police to imprison her mother because she had violated the girl’s right to education. Fearing that she was going to pay fines, the mother ended the three-week old marriage and encouraged her daughter to go back to school,” Friendson said.
It is pleasing to note that despite the challenges she faces, Mercy desires to continue with school to be self-reliant and curb the poverty issues her family is encountering.
“Although I am ambitious to achieve my goals, I don’t have learning materials, school uniform and other necessities for my education. Therefore, I am looking for people who can support me,” she said.
Male champion, Gerald Nyayekha, handles gender-based violence (GBV) cases in schools and communities to make everyone responsible for one’s rights.
“Women’s rights are violated by men as such, clubs of 10 members were established in 116 Village Development Committees (VDCs) to train men to end GBV and promote girls to complete their studies,” he said.
However, to eliminate issues of early marriages, it demands great efforts for policy reform, systems change and community mobilisation.
According to the GVH Saopa representative, Feston Kalombo, by-laws and school re-admission policies were strengthened by AGYW Project to make sure there is zero tolerance on child marriages.
“In our community, we ignorantly sent our girls into marriages until AGYW project was introduced which highlighted the need to keep girls in school by enforcing the by-laws formulated to support girl-child education,” Kalombo said.
He acknowledged that the by-laws have changed behaviour among members of the community because they now recognise the essence of educating a girl child.
“Some of the by-laws include imprisoning abusive men, no child marriages, especially under the age of 18, and no absentees from school without a valid reason. Penalties are given to those who fail to comply with the by-laws,” Kalombo said.
In Chikwawa, Prevention Programmes for Adolescents and Youth, in-and-out of school project is working with 14 educational zones, 14 health facilities, 115 schools, 116 VDCs and 11 T/As.
The project, which Global Fund is fund ing through ActionAid Malawi, started in August 2018 and ends in December 2020.
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