By Sellina Kainja
Early marriage is still a big problem in Malawi. An estimated 46 percent of girls in Malawi get married before they reach the age of 18 years and about nine percent get married before the age of 15.
Teen pregnancies are also widespread in Malawi, with 31 % bearing their first child before the age of 18. Factors that are often attributed to early marriages and teenage pregnancies include poverty, cultural and religious traditions as well as peer pressure.
Christina Nyasulu (not her real name), 19, from Dowa District is one of the girls that falls under such statistics. She saw marriage as her way out of poverty. At just 16, Christina got married because her parents whose main source of income is piece works, could not afford to pay her secondary school fees after she had passed primary school examinations.
The now form 2 student, says she saw it fit to get married. But little did she know, this would lead to more problems.
“After I informed my parents that I had passed my examinations, they told me that they cannot manage to pay school fees for me because they didn’t have money. It was at this point that I decided to get married. I didn’t even inform my parents about the marriage,” she said.
But seven months into marriage was enough to make her regret it. She was pregnant, became sick and was in hospital for almost two weeks. The man she thought loved her, ditched her at the sick bed and immediately married another woman while she was still in hospital. She lost the baby.
This was the last wake up call for Christina who had endured abuse and violence in the seven months that she was married.
She made a bold decision to go back to school.
Christina talked to the teachers at her school about her situation. They told her not to worry and that they would assist with school fees since her parents could not manage.
In the first term of from 2, One of Christina’s teachers told her about the Spotlight Initiative scholarships which could help her school needs. And that was the beginning of Christina’s journey in turning her life around.
“I am very thankful to Spotlight for giving me school uniforms, shoes and books. I urge them to continue supporting us and help other girls who are struggling with school fees just like I was. When I finish school, I want to become a nurse,” she adds.
Christina, like other girls who have been re-admitted into school after pregnancy and child marriage, was ridiculed and mocked by fellow students. But she remains resolute to finish her studies and achieve her goal of becoming a nurse.
“I am happy that the teachers treat me and other girls well and encourage us in our studies. With this scholarship I am determined not to mess up this opportunity which others are lacking. It is my prayer that I will continue to receive support so that I complete my secondary school studies and even beyond,” she says.
While Christina escaped marriage, her friend, Yamikani Kasiya (not her real name), 18, escaped from an abusive father who wanted nothing to do with her and her siblings.
Yamikani says she has struggled with education since her primary school days as her polygamous father told her it was a waste of money to pay school fees for a girl but would rather pay for her brothers.
“My mother struggled to raise us. She would constantly come to meet with school management to beg them to let us study as she looked for school fees. Now I have made it to form 3 after receiving the Spotlight Initiative scholarship. I am very grateful that Spotlight came to my rescue,” she explains. “They support us with sanitary pads so that I should not abscond from school because of menstruation. I really cannot complain much because they are providing us with the necessities that I need. I foresee a brighter future for me and my family, thanks to the support that I have received from Spotlight.”
Support from the European Union and the United Nations
The Spotlight Initiative is an EU funded programme that brings together four UN agencies, UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA and UNDP, and the Malawi Government to eliminate violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices.
Spotlight Initiative scholarships have supported 417 girls who have been rescued from early marriages, early pregnancies, gender-based violence and less privileged students to return to school. Currently the project targets six districts of Dowa, Nkhatabay,Nsanje, Mchinji, Ntchisi and Chikwawa.
“The Spotlight Initiative is a unique partnership with the EU and the Government of Malawi, bringing together the technical skills of four UN agencies experienced in the areas of education, sexual and reproductive health rights, protection from violence and other abuses as well as governance to address deeply entrenched violations of girls’ and women’s rights and support their education,” says UNICEF Chief of Education and Adolescents, Kimanzi Muthengi.
To ensure holistic support to the survivors of violence, UNICEF will continue to work with its partners to ensure affected girls have access to psycho-social and other services, and alleged perpetrators face justice.