By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Chongoni in Dedza district in central Malawi, is known for its Rock Art and cultural history. Here, at the foot of Chongoni mountain is Namoni Katengeza Training Centre. On a sunny October morning, several religious leaders from the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) Nkhoma Synod are gathered at the centre for a child protection workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to train 100 Nkhoma Synod Pastors and 100 Counsellors and build their capacity to protect children from abuse. During the workshop, reverends shared views on child protection matters in Malawi, what they hoped to learn from the training and take back to their communities.
Reverend Weston Ghande- Chawa CCAP Lobi Dedza
“I have been a reverend for 40 years and have worked in 13 churches. I think there was more being done in the past to end child marriage, especially in coordinating activities between the church and government. Previously social welfare officers would review the marriages officiated in our communities. If they found any under age children their marriage was abolished. My hope is that initiatives like this can start again, and when I go back home after this training, I would like to be able to give advice on further actions on how to end child marriage. As church elders we also need to promote child rights in our communities”.
Reverend Arnold Nthara – Kaswali Pande CCAP, Kasungu
“This workshop is a wakeup call to intensify the work we do to protect children from abuse. There are lots of early marriages and pregnancies in my area in Kasungu. I once refused to officiate the marriage of an underage girl after being tipped by a social worker on the consequences of officiating child marriages. I have been a reverend since 1998, and I believe that social workers and reverends must team up to end early marriage. Child marriage is a traumatic experience so I feel the church has a responsibility to be a part of the change. The government should continue to inform the community on the consequences of child marriage”.
Reverence Dr. Leonard Katundu – Vice Moderator Msonkhamanya CCAP in Lilongwe
“My expectation is that the training will help us to learn how the church can play a greater role in ending child marriage. As church elders, we have to ensure that boys and girls are married at the age that is listed by government. We already have youth sessions called “chilangizo” where we invite children who have reached puberty and discuss child marriage with them to raise awareness. Our communities also face problems of violence against children and child labour and the church also needs to play its role in preventing these abuses. We use various platforms such as funerals to speak out against such malpractices.
Reverend David Fareston Zembeni- Mbuka CCAP, Lilongwe
“This training has been an eye opener. Having been a reverend for 5 years, I think we sometimes limit ourselves on how we can protect children in our congregations. This training has taught me that I report child abuse through the national child help line. The bible speaks a lot about child protection and God has a special interest in children. This also encourages us to constantly remind our congregations that children have the right to life, good housing and education”.
Revered Richard Kapanda- Youth and Children’s Director at Nkhoma Synod
“This training has widened our scope on how to deal child protection matters. For the first time several elders from various churches in the central region have been given an opportunity to discuss child marriage and child protection together in one space. If these leaders are fully equipped they can make a difference to protect children and end in their communities. Also, if young people are well empowered, they can be used as a tool to end child marriage too”.