Poverty is forcing self-boarding girls at Kameme Community Day Secondary School in Chitipa district to go into early marriages and sexual relationships with Tanzanian men.
The men from Tanzania flood Kameme area in the evenings hunting for the self-boarding girls for sexual activities. Most of the girls are under 18 years of age.
Senior chief Kameme confirms that the foreign men flood his area on motorbikes in the evening looking for girls. He has since aborted one pre-arranged marriage and warned the parents that they risk arrest.
Another anomaly, which Malawi News has observed was that the girls were sharing rooms with male students. They were living like families.
“Men from Tanzania are disturbing our self-boarding school girls. Most of the houses you see here have been turned into hostels,” said Kameme who added that he was mobilising the community to build girls’ hostels.
“And a group of men recently came from Tanzania and arranged with parents of one of the girls to sell her off for marriage. When I learnt about that, I confronted the parents and aborted the plan. I warned the parents that they would be arrested if they continued to marry off their daughters who are minors,” said Kameme.
A Malawi News crew visited Msukwa’s compound where 16 students comprising boys and girls were staying under one roof. A landlord Kingston Msukwa said he collects K800 per month from each of the 16 students he is accommodating in his grass-thatched houses.
One of the female students, Julia Nyondo, who came to Msukwa’s compound while in Form Three last year, confirmed Kameme’s sentiments that Tanzania men come on motorbikes at night looking for girls.
“Most of the girls give in to such men because of poverty. They want to get money for survival because some parents do not provide for their upkeep. Our studies are affected. We are exposed to many risks; sexually transmitted infections, exploitation and pregnancies,” said Nyondo, a mother of four who went back to school after marriage.
She said she has experienced marriage hurdles and so she could not be hoodwinked by the men. She said her sister who works in Mzuzu provides her with upkeep.
In the same compound, we found three girls occupying one room and two boys in the adjacent room. They confessed that they share resources.
One of the girls, who refused to be named, revealed that she goes out with a man from Tanzania because of poverty. She said she was once married and was withdrawn from the marriage and sent back to school by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Karonga Diocese.
“I was sent back to school but my parents cannot provide me with the necessities. I have no choice but to seek help from somewhere. The Tanzanian man gives me money and other things and I am not complaining,” she said.
CCJP Project Officer for Chitipa, Abel Malumbira, whose organisation has been withdrawing girls from marriages through a project called Participatory Women’s Rights and Empowerment since 2012, said lack of support for the girls once they go back to school was a big challenge.
Through the project, 21 and 30 girls have been withdrawn from marriages in Kameme and Misuku, respectively, and sent back to school. Howewer, 17 and 23 girls were withdrawn from Kameme and Misuku respectively but did not go back to school.
“Parents cannot afford to pay fees hence some girls opt for self-boarding so that they can easily sleep with men in exchange of resources. The porous borders between Malawi and Tanzania also fuel the promiscuous behaviour. A chief from Malawi married a 14-year-old girl and while on bail fled to Tanzania. Three days ago, men from Tanzania came to marry a girl in Kameme area but the senior chief aborted the plan,” said Malumbira.
Karonga CCJP Desk Officer, Sydney Mwakaswaya, urged other organisations in the area and the District Social Welfare Office to look into the plight of the girls. He also appealed to councillors to build a girls’ hostel with the Constituency Development Fund.
Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, said what is happening in Chitipa is a reflection of the need for increased access to education and called on government to revisit the concept of Community Day Secondary School so that the schools are within walkable distances or provide boarding facilities.
Kondowe also urged the community around Kameme to provide security for the girls and bring to book those violating girls’ rights to education.
Ministry of Education Science and Technology spokesperson, Manfred Ndovi, said the ministry does not allow self-boarding in schools because security for the students is compromised. He said schools that allow self-boarding for students risk closure and disciplinary action on the members of staff.
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