By Blair Mhone
MACHINGA-(MaraviPost)-Enticed by money and treats, 18 year old Zione Mbeta from Traditional Authority (T.A) Mposa in Machinga district dropped out of school and got married in 2019.
After she got pregnant, the man left for Mozambique where he married another woman leaving Zione helpless to sustain herself and her child.
Since then Zione now 21, has had to face the reality of poverty being a young parent of an infant child.
“I dropped out of school in 2019 when I was just 18 and got married, but the man left me for another family in Mozambique soon after. He was a Fisherman and I had fallen for him because of the gifts he used to shower myself and my family with. I am currently struggling economically and to sustain my child every day is a big challenge,” Says Zione.
The story of Zione is sad reality of many young girls in Machinga district where there are overwhelming rising cases of school dropouts, unintended teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
Reports by the Ministry of Gender indicate that Machinga district recorded 969 cases of child marriages in 2020 alone and this was largely due to closure of schools in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The situation rendered many young people idle hence exposing them to risky behaviors.
This is what prompted Extra Mile Development Foundation (EMDEF) with support from Urgent Action Fund-Africa to implement a project on rescuing girls from child marriages and supporting the survivors back to school.
Through the project, Zione and 12 other survivors of child marriages and school dropouts have already been identified and intent to go back to school in the next academic year (January 2022).
On the opportunity to go back to school, Zione says, “Given an economic activity to sustain my family with, I can ably go back to school, have something to do in the afternoon, and I still hold my dream of being a nurse someday.”
According to Execute Director for EMDEF Towera Ngwira, the organization started the project in September this year and is working with different stakeholders at district and community level to find long lasting solutions to ending child marriages.
“We have had interface meetings with stakeholders at both school and community level to identify challenges girls face which are fuelling the rising cases of child marriages and school dropouts,” said Ngwira.
So far some major challenges identified include no financial support from parents to their children on their education needs and some parents lack interest in sending children especially girls to school.
Ngwira said the organization is currently doing awareness campaigns to the community to sensitise parents and guardians on the importance of education and consequences of child marriages.
“Also through the interface meetings for instance, a taskforce of T/A Mposa, Group Village Headmen, Child Victim Support Unit Representatives, Police and Child Protection Workers was established where the community came up with an action plan to develop community bylaws to deter child marriages and school dropouts. Those violating rights to education and health of young girls will be penalized.
“This will serve as a supportive environment for the adolescent girls and young women to have their rights advanced, to be able to complete their primary and secondary school education,” Ngwira added .
According to UNICEF, child marriage is a serious problem in Malawi with about 46 per cent of girls being married before the age of 18, and 9 per cent before the age of 15.
The main drivers of child marriage are poverty, cultural and religious traditions, and peer pressure.