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The hidden bitter side of Covid-19

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KAMBWIRI—We are worried

News of a surge in cases of early pregnancies among adolescents in some districts like Mangochi shook the society. It raises many questions amid advocacy for child education and access to reproductive health rights information among adolescents.

The shocking news came at a time schools have remained closed for the past five months due to the spread of Covid-19, forcing many to partially attribute the crisis to the prolonged stay of learners at home.

Asiyatu Malikeni, a 17-year-old girl from Traditional Authority (T/A) Kambwiri says such could be possible as many of her age have nothing to do at home and access to sexual reproductive health services is a challenge.

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“School keeps us busy. We also have a chance to learn life skills and participate in school clubs. Since schools were closed, girls and boys have nothing to do in our communities and are at risk of engaging in sexual relationships,” she said

The situation also worries TA Kambwiri, who seems to have lost hope as the spread of the virus continues to bite all sectors of the society.

“Since the schools are closed, we worry over our adolescent girls. Many of them will get early pregnancies and initiated into child marriages. We cannot do anything until the end of the pandemic for schools to reopen,” he said

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Over 9,000 girls are reported to have gotten pregnant from January to July of this year in different districts of the country.

Salima District Council Youth Officer, Baldiwn Nkumbadzara, said the district has not been spared.

He says the pandemic has also chocked most operations and young people also face challenges to access youth services.

“We are hearing of such cases here in Salima. They have gone to marriage maybe after realising that the period they have been out of school, they have lost hope. Our operations have as well been affected with the pandemic,” he said

Malawi Girl Guide Association (Magga) is among organisations working in Salima ensuring a range of care and counselling to the teenage adolescent girls and promotion and access to SRH services and information.

Magga president, Susan Phukaphuka, says there is a need to find alternative ways to save the adolescents from wrenches of Covid-19.

“We have 100 mentors in Salima who are each having door to door mentorship sessions targeting 25 girls. Our mentors were fully trained on how to go about it. Looking at the intense of Covid-19 and how our girls are affected, we thought of talking to our partners to get bicycles for our mentors to enable them reach the girls in their village,” she said

The association is implementing an initiative dubbed Joint Programmme on Adolescent Girls in Mangochi, Dedza and Salima districts with funding from UNFPA.

“During the school closure, the mentors and the mentees continued their conversations and sessions; the mentors have been supported with face masks for them and their mentees, mobility, information on Covid-19 and PPEs,” Phukaphuka said

Through the programme, 138 bicycles were distributed to mentors to aid them travel for door to door sessions with adolescent girls and young women.

Elizabeth Chimalizeni from Katelera in Salima is among the mentors and says the assistance is timely and they will be able to reach out to many adolescents in their communities.

“We move long distances to meet our mentee. It has made our job easier. We do not have to struggle for transport anymore. I am sure that we will also be able to reach out to many adolescents,” she says.

Rose Saidi of Mangochi shares a similar experience.

‘I meet the 15 to 19 groups of girls and tell them about their bodies, Covid-19, sexual reproduction, life skills and other issues. We meet every Friday here to discuss these issues. I am proud of my friends because none of them is pregnant’.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) stresses that school closures carry high social and economic costs for people across the communities.

It says the impact however is particularly severe for most vulnerable and marginalised boys and girls and their families.

The United Nations Sustainable Development goals calls for lifelong learning opportunities for all and that girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.

It may seem that the emergence of the Covid-19 has changed how things are done worldwide and robbed the gains made in securing the future of girls and adolescents in the country.

However, the outbreak has also given organizations a food for thought on how to implement sustainable programmes.

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