Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child
Issue Number 41 • October 2013
Traditional leaders outlaw child marriage in Malawi
n Northern Malawi, the practice of marrying off teenage girls to older men who pay large dowries is a common phenomenon. In the past, many community members considered girls as a source of wealth. However, due to the widespread cases of child marriages and children dropping out of school in the area, Plan Malawi trained and supported communities to set up child protection committees in Karonga District. The committees empower community members to address child protection, rights and concerns through preventative measures, monitoring, reporting, advocacy and facilitating rehabilitation of victims where necessary. After training on child rights, the chiefs and child protection committee members in Karonga joined forces and drafted stringent by-laws. The laws are different from state legislation and ensure that children in the community are protected from any form of abuse and harmful traditional practices. The perpetrators also face tough penalties. “In the past we had our own cultures that allowed us to take a girl to a man without any question, whatever their age. The girl would be referred to as wealth. If a girl was born in a family, the father considered himself as rich,” said Mackson Mwakaboko, traditional authority leader of Karonga District. “When the child protection committees went round the villages to raise awareness in our
community on child rights issues, they called a meeting summoning all traditional leaders. We were trained on child rights and they told us that the kupimbira culture was harmful to our girls,” explained Mwakaboko. He added: “I thought about their mission, and realised that fewer than 10 girls had been educated in my village. We decided to work as a team.” One of the bylaws drafted by the team states that: If someone in the community is found forcing a girl or boy to marry before completing their education they will be fined 60,000 kwacha. “These bylaws are working and helping our children to get education. Many people are afraid of breaking them because of the consequences which attract hefty penalties which they cannot afford,” observed Mwakaboko. The monies collected from the penalties are donated to schools for development projects.
Changing attitudes Fifteen year old Myness is a beneficiary of the programme. She was rescued from her marriage and taken back to school. The young girl has been living with her grandmother since she started school because her parents, who live in another village, are unable to fend for her and four other siblings due to poverty. Even though she moved to stay with her grandmother, she would skip school because the old woman could not afford to pay her school fees. “It happened when I was only 13 years old. My friend who had already found herself a hus-
“I cried when I received the good news about my grandchild’s performance. I was happy yet disturbed as I didn’t know what to do. I went back to school and talked to the teacher who advised me to seek help from the Child Protection Committee in our village to bring Myness back home,” says the grandmother. After reporting her granddaughter’s Myness 15 is a beneficiary of Child Protection Committee in Karonga dilemma to the committee, they traced District, Malawi. She was rescued from her marriage and taken back to school. Pictures: Courtesy Plan International Myness to her husband’s house. “I was at home Apart from withdrawing them countant,” Myness stressed. when some people (the child She noted: “Recently two of we also look out for those chilprotection committee members) my friends at school were plan- dren that have dropped out and came and asked me if I was aware ning to get married, but I dis- resettle them back to school. We that I had passed my exams and couraged them. I told them my visit homes and advise parents had been selected to join one of story, and they stopped all the on the importance of educating the best schools in my district,” marriage preparations and chose their children.” Myness said. She added: “They to continue with education.” Plan’s programme is aimed promised to contribute part of Milka Mwiba, a parent from at ensuring children and youth my school fee and I decided to the community, said: “I am hap- of Malawi are able to realise their run away while my husband was py that these bylaws have been right to protection through these away.” put in place by our traditional strengthened community child “I was afraid and thought he leaders to ensure that our chil- protection systems. would come looking for me but I dren get education. Our children “So far in this area we have have never seen him. The com- are working hard and we believe trained and helped community mittee contributed some money that if they are educated then this members including traditional and paid part of my school fee. I will help to reduce poverty in our leaders to establish 30 commuam happy I returned to school, area.” nity child protection structures even though there may be chalShe noted: “There is a fine for which are working in seven lenges someday I will be an ac- those children who get married traditional areas,” said Dennis early and a fine for those who ab- Kasambara, child protection fa“In the past we had our own scond from school.” cilitator for Mzuzu programme According to Stephen unit in Plan Malawi. cultures that allowed us to take a Mwakitalu, chairman of Mu“The project is also curbing girl to a man without any ques- songa Child Protection Commit- violence against children and tion, whatever their age. The girl tee in Karonga District: “During cultural norms which are impedthe sensitisation campaigns we ing girls from continuing their would be referred to as wealth.” identified a number of girls who education,” Kasambara stated. had been married at a tender age. Courtesy Plan International Mackson Mwakaboko
band convinced me to get into marriage,” said Myness. “One day she came to me and asked why I was suffering. Life was very difficult at home. We could not even afford soap. My friend told me it would be better if I got married like her, so that my husband could take care of my needs.” Although Myness was reluctant, there was a man in the village who kept pressing her to marry him. “He promised to take care of me, provide whatever I wanted. After sitting for my grade eight exams I accepted,” Myness explains. She adds: However, life was not any better because my husband was an alcoholic. Since my grandmother was equally poor, I decided to persevere in the marriage.” Myness says her husband kept any of his promises. When she asked him, he said he had already paid her dowry of 37,000 kwacha ($110) and that was the money he would have used for her upkeep. “I regretted what I had done. My wish was to continue with education but then I was helpless and had no one to support me.” When Myness’ grade 8 results were released, she had passed with flying colours. The teacher at her school informed her grandmother of the good news but the girl was already a wife.
Schools, parents put on notice
…By Omar Mwalago
arents and schools that force pregnant girls to drop out of school risk prosecution. This was said by Kwale County leaders that included Fatma Achani, Deputy Governor, Suleiman Dori, Msambweni Member of National Assembly and Zainab Chidzuga, Women Representative. The leaders noted that girls who get pregnant in schools must be encouraged to continue with their education after child birth. They warned that action will be taken against schools’ managers and parents who force girls to drop out of school due to pregnancy. “While the high cases of early pregnancies in Msambweni District are worrying, we need to ensure that girls who get pregnant are readmitted to schools,” Dori noted. Achani decried the rising cases of defilement in the County lamenting that many school girls are being defiled by old men in the County. She warned that stern action will be taken against offenders.
She cited a recent case where two pupils from Mwamose Primary School in Lunga Lunga aged 14 and 16 years respectively were raped by their own father. Achani asked the county administration to investigate all rape cases and arrest those involved in the inhuman act. She said that culprits have been brought to book while many cases have been reported to the police. “Although women have been reporting such cases, police have been reluctant to arrest the culprits, thus encouraging the vice,” said Achani. She urged Kwale County residents to work closely with children rights activists to ensure that offenders are brought to book.
Bursery The leaders made the remarks at Dr Babla Diani Secondary School where they disbursed KSh4.628 million to students in secondary schools, colleges and university. Dori reiterated his commitment to ensuring that all needy children access bursary
through Constituency Development Fund. On the other hand, Chidzuga urged women in the area to support girl child education. She called for concerted efforts among different stakeholders to improve education standards. Their sentiments were supported by Gabriel Baraza, Children’s Officer, Diani location who noted that girls as young as 11 years were having sex in exchange of sanitary towels, body lotion, perfumed soaps and snacks. “Most of them get pregnant before the age of 17 with many dropping out of school to fend for themselves and for their children,” he said. Baraza noted that they are driven into these relationships mainly by poverty, parental neglect and pleasure of having older boyfriend with a lot of money to boast about. A spot check revealed that poverty and parental neglect is to blame for the high cases of teenage pregnancies. Grace Wanjiku, a Form Two student intimates that she abandoned school when
her pregnancy started showing. Wanjiku got into a relationship with a 28-year-old man who would buy her soap and sanitary towels because she was too shy to ask her father. “I was too shy to ask my father for sanitary towels. My stepmother was not helpful either and would refer me to my father who would sometimes tell me that I was a big girl Right: Kwale County Deputy Governor Fatuma Achani at Dr Babla Diani secondary school during the official issuance of and needed to fend for myself. Most of the time I went with- bursary funds to secondary, college and university students and out sanitary towels,” Wanjiku left, Mr. Ali Mafimbo Executive Board member for land, Mining and natural resources. explained. Picture: Omar Mwalago She added: “This forced me to get into a relationship with the 28-year-old man nant or nursing babies they maize and groundnuts. Kwale County Health Diwho would buy me soap, lo- cannot take care of. Baraza noted that the rector Hajjara Elbusaidy lation and sanitary towels and sometimes give me pocket county has a high incidence of mented that most of these girls teenage pregnancies with the give birth at home under the money.” In return, Wanjiku would hardest hit group being girls care of traditional birth attenengage in unprotected sex with in high school and primary dants who cannot provide speschool pupils in standard five cialized healthcare. the man. and six. Elbusaidy noted that the Incentives According to Mbwana girls face the risk of suffering “The man was giving me Bwatah, a children offi- fistula, raptured uterus and what my parents could not af- cer in Kikoneni location in unsafe abortion. “Early pregford to buy for me,” she lament- Msambweni sub-County, on nancy is fatal because the girls’ market days absenteeism from bodies are not well-developed ed. Incentives Wanjiku is not alone. Most class is highest with children and are susceptible to complioff her peers are either preg- being found hawking roasted cations at delivery,” she added.