By Josephine Chinele, contributor
When 17-year-old Linda bought rat poison from the local market, nobody suspected she was up to something harmful.
She appeared to be normal, despite that inside a huge emotional burden was weighing down on her shoulders.
Linda had dropped out of school due to lack of support and fell pregnant months later.
The man responsible dumped her.
“She did not have sustainable means of supporting herself and the child. She lived every day as it came. One day, she stole our aunt’s money to go and buy something for herself and the baby. She was later subjected to terrible torture,” says Watipatsa, Linda’s cousin.
Apparently, people around Linda did not spare a thought to understand what she was going through.
Watipatsa says they treated her like she was the only sinful person on earth, “not knowing it destroyed and hurt her”.
On the day Linda bought the poison, she reportedly got rice on credit from a nearby shop together with the deadly substance, went ahead to prepare the rice and consumed it all by herself.
She then started vomiting while wriggling in excruciating pain.
People close to her then began to connect the dots and eventually realised she had ingested rat poison.
“She had not shown any sign of being suicidal. Even when she became unwell, she didn’t say anything until
her death, on the way to the hospital.
“It was a painful moment for all of us. We later realised she had a serious mental battle but it was too late. She left behind a one-year-old baby who was still breastfeeding at the time of her death,” Watipatsa laments.
There are girls in the country who go through what Linda did, but sometimes little attention is paid to their needs.
“Adolescent girls and young women are the biggest victims. When they fall pregnant, everyone describes
them as being loose. Even those who are supposed to be at the forefront giving them moral support do not do that,” says Atupele Jafali from Township in Blantyre.
Jafali knows several girls in her location who ventured into commercial sex work for survival after falling pregnant and having no one to support them.
“It brings food to their tables and they derive a sense of independence in such trade. The challenge is they get exposed to more unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections,” Jafali says.
Another resident of Bangwe Township, Esther, reveals that her daughter got pregnant at 15 years old and decided to keep the baby even after being pressured to abort by her peers.
Esther says she decided to give the girl all the necessary support so that she could not become suicidal.
“I have heard about girls ending their lives after being condemned for falling pregnant instead of being supported.
I have also heard of girls procuring backstreet abortions which sometimes end in complications,” Esther says.
She hopes her daughter will return to school after giving birth and pledges to continue supporting her throughout.
Blantyre District Social Welfare Officer, Stephano Joseph, believes paying attention to people’s behaviour and statements can temper the rising cases of suicide in the country. For Blantyre, Joseph says his office is ever willing and equipped to provide the necessary problems that young people face,” Chibaka says.
To help in addressing psychosocial challenges that teen mothers face, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Malawi has been implementing a ‘Youth United against Covid’ initiative under the Global Youth Mobilisation for Generation Disrupted project in Mulanje’s Traditional Authority (T/A) Mabuka and Blantyre’s T/A Machinjiri-Bangwe.
YWCA Malawi Project Coordinator, Irene Ntonga, says some teen and young mothers suffer from domestic mental health issues but lack psychosocial support.
“They are still children but have to look after children too. They often lack financial and mental support from their children’s fathers or immediate families,” Ntonga says.
She further states that conditions are worse for orphaned teen mothers, as was the case with Linda.
Ntonga also points out that most adolescent girls experienced sexual and gender-based violence during
the closure of schools as a preventive measure against the Covid pandemic, with several of them falling pregnant in the process.
“Such girls needed psychosocial support. Even teen mothers in the two areas where we have been working need support, hence the project,” she says.
The six-month intervention has reached out to 70 adolescent girls and young women—30 in Bangwe and 40 in Mulanje.