Pregnant at 13 – Chimwemwe’s story

Providing support to victims of violence and abuse

By Lulutani Tembo
Chimwemwe holding her one-month-old baby
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Thoko Chikondi
08 July 2021

Chimwemwe Phiri (not her real name) was just 13-years-old when she was impregnated by her stepfather in 2020, resulting in her dropping out of school while in standard seven.

 “When my pregnancy started to show and it was known that my stepfather was responsible, my friends started laughing at me. They did not want to associate with me anymore. I felt alone and cried every night,” she says.

Her situation caught the attention of the ward councilor in her area who informed the social welfare office for their quick intervention, though by then her stepfather had run away. After months of being on the run, he was finally captured in April 2021 and has since been remanded at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre awaiting trial.

This was a relief for not only Chimwemwe but also those involved in trying to make sure justice is served for the young girl.

Child protection co-case manager (left) Mary Changwa and Lunzu ward councillor Margaret Mictor interacting at Pasani village in Blantyre
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
Child protection co-case manager (left) Mary Changwa and Lunzu ward councillor Margaret Mictor interacting at Pasani village in Blantyre

“I am a ward councilor, but also a mother, that is why when I heard that one of the young girls in my area was pregnant, I knew that something was fishy and wrong. I was determined as a female leader to make sure that the perpetrator was arrested although he was on the run. I engaged the village headman and our community police to fight this battle for Chimwemwe and we won.” says Margaret Mictor, ward councilor for Lunzu area.  “There is power in collective effort, especially at community level. It is important to work together as a community to fight for our children’s rights, protect and defend them because if we don’t, no one else will,” she adds

Chimwemwe gave birth on the 16th of May this year. It was not easy for her to give birth as her body is still not yet matured to have a baby, she consequently delivered through cesarean section. She is currently living with her aunt (moms’ sister), who is helping to take care of them ever since her mom fled after being embarrassed about her own daughter being impregnated by her husband.

“My body is still weak from my wounds from giving birth. We also struggle with food at home, there is often not much to eat,” she explains sombrely.

Chimwemwe being held by her Aunt at their home at Pasani Village in Blantyre
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
Chimwemwe being held by her Aunt at their home at Pasani Village in Blantyre

Because she is not physically fit yet, Chimwemwe has not been able to attend the trial to sentence her stepfather. In the midst of her ordeal, child protection case manager, Mary Changwa together with the Blantyre Social Welfare Office referred Chimwemwe to the One Stop Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital to receive counseling and psychosocial support. Chimwemwe is also receiving psychosocial support from Lunzu Victim Support Unit.

“When I started going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for counseling, I was able to let out my frustrations. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I started to believe that things will get better one day,” she illustrates.   

UNICEF with funding from USAID has been working to support the Malawi Government in the strengthening of service providers, duty bearers, social welfare officers, and child protection workers to be able to identify, prevent and respond to cases of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Machinga and Zomba districts. The support also extends towards improving the implementation of child protection case management approaches and strengthening the justice systems for children.

For Chimwemwe not all hope is lost. Despite being hurt about her situation, she is adamant to return to school soon and finish her education.

“I wish for so many things, I want to go back to school and become a nurse now because I was inspired by how the midwives and doctors helped me during my child’s birth. I also want a stiff punishment and hard sentence for my stepfather because he ruined my life, I don’t want to ever see him walk free. No girl deserves to go through what I am going through now.”