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Doing time in school waiting for marriage

© O Pais/L. Mabunda
The gender gap in school attendance has narrowed, but other disparities persist, especially at the secondary school level.

By Lázaro Mabunda, O Pais

Lembrança Nhambe is 15 years old. She was borrn and raised in Panjane, a small locality about 40 km from Magude, the district center, which in turn is just over 100 km from Maputo. When she was eight years old, she was sent to school by her parents, but when she enrolled in Panjane Primary School, her dream, or perhaps the dream of her parents, was not to become a doctor, nurse or teacher or to be educated in any given field. Rather, for her, schooling was a way to pass time until she was ready for marriage. Her first priority was to grow older and marry.

For the next eight years, Lembrança did not go to school with the goal of getting a degree. Her goal was to learn to read, write and have a basic mastery of Portuguese. The target reached, and having reached an age where she was allowed to choose a partner, she decided last year to quit school and join old Cubai, a man over 60 years of age who resides in the Boi village, within the administrative post of Sabié in Moamba district. In exchange, the family would receive 20 heads of cattle from its new son-in-law.

The case, which became known simply as “Lembrança”, provoked an outcry among teachers, who believed that she was not only too young to marry, but also too young to marry a man who was more than 60 years old.
“It's a troubling situation. We have been working with agencies to see if we can stop this, and we have tried to work with community leaders to understand what lies behind the issue and what can be done to resolve the situation,” says Armando Matlava, director of the Panjane Primary School and Lembrança’s former teacher, with concern in his voice. Mr. Matlava tried to resolve the case in January this year, but without success.

“...Lembrança is a girl of 15 who lives in the home of a man who is over 60 years old,” explains Matlava, who doubts that she was won over romantically and only accepted her husband through the intervention of her parents. “I don’t think the man won the girl over, but he may have business relations with the parents, because for them cattle is important. This is the tradition of paying lobola in the form of cattle. For the parents it's a business.” 

The Lembrança case was brought to the chief of the Panjane administrative post in January “in order to report it to the police, because this case was nothing short of rape of minors.” Nevertheless, Lembrança distances herself from it all: in her view, she has found the love of her life, and his name is old Cubai. To her, age is not important, as the Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos sings in “Woman over 40”. What is important, is the love she feels for her husband.

In Magude, especially at the administrative post level, having a girl represents wealth through the lobola that can be expected for her. “Parents who have girls envision their corral full of cattle,” says Matlava. For the parents, “...it is enough that the girl grows up; they will look for ways to marry her off in return for cattle.” 

Strangely, the parents do not feel that they are forcing their daughters into anything. “Some children marry men 40 years or older,” laments the Director of Panjane Primary, who says it is all “about the parent’s business”.

“The most important thing for them is that they child grows up and gets married; they do not give any importance to education. All the girls who drop out of school do so because of early marriage. They give up.”

“It's a cultural problem, and it is essentially the same in all of Magude district. The tradition here is that the child grows up and leaves home. School is a way to pass the time while waiting. The girls marry when they are 12 to 15 years old. For them, reaching 4th or 5th grade is sufficient. There are few girls who reach secondary school,” says Matlava.

One of the measures that could help eradicate the problem is vocational training for girls. When the girls have been trained, they can return to their communities and demonstrate the importance of school.
It is not only the girls who drop out of school, however. In fact, the statistics show that over the past two years, there were more dropouts among boys than among girls. Says the District Director of Education: “The boys leave school to tend to the cattle, because it gives them an income. After a few years of tending cattle, they will have earned enough for the lobola they need to pay for a wife.”

The poor quality of education, lack of incentives and poor training of teachers exacerbate the problem. Last year, the prime minister, Mr. Ali Aires, then Minister of Education, acknowledged that education had hit bottom in terms of quality. This lack of quality of education is most visible in first and second grade, where many students do not know how to read or write. Other factors contribute. A team from the Ministry of Education found that teachers lack lesson plans, which also contributes to the drop-out rates.

Last year, the new Minister of Education, Mr. Zeferino Martins, also acknowledged that the quality of education is poor. According to the Minister, the Ministry of Education will focus its attention on three main pillars over the next five years, namely, improving children's access to basic education; improving the quality of education; and developing institutional capacity and human resources. Another priority is to revitalize technical and vocational education under the Integrated Programme for the Reform of Vocational Education.

“We recognize that basic reading and writing skills should be developed duirng the first two years of school, which is why the first two grades represent the first learning cylce,” said Mr. Martins.
Budget cuts due to the international financial crisis will aggravate the situation and hamper the work of the Government and international organizations like UNESCO in the struggle to develop higher quality of education nationwide. 

This web article is an abridged version of a newspaper article written by the accomplished journalist Lázaro Mabunda of the ‘O Pais’ newspaper. It was published on 16 April 2011. It has been reprinted with the author’s permission. The original article in Portuguese can be found on the ‘O Pais’ web site: www.opais.co.mz

 

 
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