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Back to school after violent marriage

© UNICEF/Gaelle Sevenier/2007
Catherine and her little boy.

Catherine, a young Malawian girl, was encouraged by a group of volunteer mothers from the community to return to school after enduring abuses from her violent husband. 

Lilongwe, October 19 2007 – Gaelle Sevenier - Catherine became accidentally pregnant at the age of 14. She dropped out of school and married the father. From that moment, life became a real nightmare for the young mother. Her husband started beating her on a daily basis. Sometimes he would not give her any food to eat for two to three days.

A group of mothers from the community of Jombo, one hour drive from the city of Blantyre, found out about Catherine's situation. The volunteers, who generally meet twice a week to encourage girls to return to school, managed to talk to Catherine separately from her husband and encouraged her to return to school. She then decided to end her marriage. Once in class, she was taught during life skills lessons that violence is not acceptable.

"School is a useful place to communicate about problems," says UNICEF Education Officer Simon Mphisa, "therefore within school programmes, we have developed a curriculum with simple massages and knowledge about the human body, sexual behavior, violence or exploitation. We train teachers on how to deliver the information and how to interact with the children. We are very pleased that the statistics on the number of trained teachers is high in the country".  In fact, the UNICEF supported Life Skills Education programme reaches 5,168 schools in Malawi, with about 2.5 million primary school children.

Forty percent of marriages in Malawi involve children from 15 to 18 years old. Girls are very often dropping out of school to get married or work. In 2003, an Accelerated Girls’ Education Initiative was launched to look at ways of attracting girls to school and keeping them there. Therefore, the joint WFP and UNICEF school feeding programme gives a monthly extra portion of food to girls so that they can take 15 kilos of corn back to their home. In 249 Malawian schools, children are given a plate full of nutritious porridge every morning. With the main goal of maintaining girls in schools, the programme also helps to reduce absenteeism and increases enrolment in the targeted schools.

Catherine is now doing quite well in school, and dreams of becoming a nurse. One of the challenges she faces in class is that the other children often laugh at her, saying "you are a mother, not a girl!"  Catherine tells them that she got married not by wish or plan, but accidentally, when she became pregnant. "At time, I advise the other girls not to do what I did," says Catherine. "I made a mistake, and now know what this marriage was like. The other girls should not do as I did but should stay in school. Today, I am very grateful I was given a second chance to continue with my education."




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