Child protection case management saves Anita from child marriage

The power of community coordination

Lulutani Tembo
Anita with her sibling and her eight-month-old baby inside their house at Pasani village in Lunzu, Blantyre
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
29 July 2021

For many people, January is a month for new beginnings. For sisters Anita and Jane Hiwa (not their real names), it was disastrous when heavy rains destroyed the only home that they had. A two-bedroomed house in Lunzu located in semi-rural Blantyre.

14-year-old Anita and seven-year-old Jane are orphans. Following their father’s death in 2016, their mother died a year later, and life has never been the same for the children. Ever since the death of their parents, the two have been looked after by their mentally ill uncle who has no reliable source of income.

“I dropped out of school while in standard seven when I fell pregnant.  I gave birth to a baby girl in 2020, and when the baby was six-months-old, I eventually decided to marry the father of my child because he promised me shelter, food for my sibling and the baby,” the teenager explains.

Lunzu child protection case worker, Mary Changwa, lives just a kilometre from the destructed home which Anita shares with her little sister and baby. Mary has known the children’s plight from the time their parents died. When word about Anita’s marriage got to her, she mobilized village elders and worked with the village chief to nullify the marriage.

Lunzu Case Worker Mary Changwa interacting with Anita and Jane
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
Lunzu Case Worker Mary Changwa interacting with Anita and Jane

The Case Worker convened a child protection case conference in February 2021 where the case of Anita was presented and discussed.  Case Conferences are regular sessions where child protection workers and stakeholders in the community come together to resolve protection issues affecting children, as well as child rights violations. As a result, Anita was withdrawn from her marriage. Members of Blantyre Synod Church who were part of the conference also pledged to build Anita and her family a better house, with the community contributing bricks and sand.

“I am so proud to be associated with case conferences because they play a critical role in resolving complex cases for vulnerable children. Through these conferences I have seen a lot of children regaining their dignity and reclaiming their lives. Our community also has a lot of orphaned children who are in school and their fees are fully paid for by well-wishers when their cases are presented at the case conferences for joint decision making and support,” Mary says.

With funding from the Government of Japan, and USAID, UNICEF has supported the implementation of case management in the country for early identification, referral and management of children in need of care and support. The assistance to MoGCDSW includes training of Case Workers and Case Managers to improve their knowledge and skills, so they are well equipped to provide quality services for children experiencing cases of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

Anita and her baby entering her home which was destructed by heavy rains at the beginning of the year
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
Anita and her baby entering her home which was destructed by heavy rains at the beginning of the year

Apart from benefiting from case management, Anita also received counselling from Mary to deal with the trauma from her experiences.

“Every time I talk to people about my problems, I feel better and hopeful because they make me realize how important it is to never give up in life. My perspective on life changed for the better.”

Anita plans to go back to school and be a good example to her seven-year-old sister, Jane.

“I got married simply because the father of my child promised to provide for my family. When I went to live with him, he did not fulfil his promises, they were all lies. It was easy for me to listen to Mai Changwa when she came to convince me to leave the marriage considering the daily challenges I was facing in marriage,” the young mother explains.

Since the marriage was nullified, Anita is back home living with her family. The new house that members of Blantyre Synod church and other community members are building for them is currently under construction, and they’re hoping it will be completed and be habitable by late June. The village chief also occasionally helps them with food.

“I believe that the new house well-wishers are building for us is a sign that me and my small family have a better future ahead of us.  I am so grateful for the case conference because it has changed our lives for the better,” Anita adds.