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Malawi, July 2016: Saved from the ugly jaws of child marriage

By Doreen Matonga

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Matonga
Khadija said no to early marriage and opted for education.

MANGOCHI, Malawi, July 2016 – Malawi’s Mangochi District is among the many districts in the country that has ‘exported’ a lot of young men and women to South Africa in search of greener pastures. For the men that come back for a visit, they are considered a ‘jackpot’ by many families such that they would force their young girls to marry them in the hope for a better life.

Khadija Yasini, 18, of Chowe Village, T/A Chowe in Mangochi got the shock of her life two years ago when one of the men who trekked to South Africa came back to her village.

“He kept coming to our house, bringing various things that he had bought. And everyone was excited that he was bringing me things hence I should marry him, but I refused,” says Khadija.

The pressure on her was so much that the women in her village and her teachers started mocking her that she was refusing to marry a rich man. “They said I will remain poor because I have lost an opportunity to marry a rich man,” she says.

Although her uncles and aunts made all the arrangements, her grandmother refused to let her marry the man.

“My grandmother sided with me saying I should continue with school. My grandmother believed that I could do well and become a better woman if I got educated,” says Khadija, who lost her mother in 2002 and was abandoned by her father along with her younger brother soon after her mother’s death.

With her grandmother on her side, Khadija was motivated to stay in school and was among the few lucky girls who got a bursary to pay her school fees at Chowe Community Day Secondary School.

Khadija, who aspires to become a nurse, is one of the girls that UNICEF (through its partners Malawi Girl Guides Association and with support from UK Aid) is training as part of the Keeping Girls in School (KGIS) Programme, which promotes girls’ education. The training sessions cover areas including building self-esteem, menstrual hygiene management and issues about sexuality in a bid to keep girls in school and prevent early marriages.

UK Aid is supporting UNICEF with KGIS to empower girls in Community Day Secondary Schools to stay in school, by among others, tackling issues that lead to school dropout and early marriages and provides girl-friendly sanitation facilities in schools. Currently, the programme is targeting 200 schools across 15 districts where the project is being implemented.

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Matonga
One of the plays at school where Khadija and her friends are encouraging fellow girls to say no to the early marriages as is the norm in most parts of Mangochi.

“Through the Keeping Girls in Schools Programme, Malawi Girls Guides Association has empowered over 800 girls in Mangochi, Salima, Dedza and Chiladzulu to say no to early marriages,” says Dalitso Chole of the Malawi Girl Guides Association. “We believe having these sessions motivates the girls to look to the future which has a lot of possibilities as opposed to their current situations.”

“This training is important for me as I now know that I can make a sanitary pad on my own and stay in school during my monthly period,” says Khadija. “My family is poor, my grandmother is old. Sometimes we sleep without food, but our suffering is not reason enough for me to marry at a young age,” she continued while fighting back tears as she told her story. “As long as I have school fees that’s all that matters. All I want is to finish my education and be independent. I consider myself very lucky as this training has made me more confident that I can achieve my dreams if I remain focused on my education,” she says with a somewhat brighter face as she looks to the future with hope.

As part of the programme, UNICEF through the Ministry of Education, has printed a booklet with information on menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls called the ABCs of Being a Girl [PDF]. Other interventions in the project include increasing access to safe spaces for girl learners during their menstruation cycles through the construction of latrines and sanitation facilities. This is in addition to school and community outreach activities which advocate for gender sensitive hygiene education, both within and outside of schools.



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