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Repentant Chifuniro returns to school after pregnancy

Written by  Memory Chatonda
my dream is to become a teacher: Chifuniro my dream is to become a teacher: Chifuniro

 

Blantyre, March 19, 2020:She envied her friends who owned smartphones and extravagantly spent money they received from their boyfriends and sugar daddies.

“I wanted the same lifestyle. But, alas, I ended up being pregnant at 17 and dropped out of Standard Eight at Kochilira Primary School,” says Chifuniro Kapito of Kamphandira Village in Traditional Authority (TA) Zulu in Mchinji.

Now 19, the second daughter in a family of four narrates how she suffered with the pregnancy.

Her parents could not support her adequately because they rely on piece works for their daily survival.

“My parents nearly disowned me upon learning of the pregnancy,” says Chifuniro with tears running down her dry skinned face.

“Their pain was on the basis that I was still in school and that caring for the pregnancy would need more money which already was difficult to source,” she adds.
Chifuniro had no option but to unofficially marry the man responsible for the pregnancy. She had hope that life would be better away from her parents.

Contrary to the expectation of a happy life and fortunes, it was like she married endless torture. Her matrimonial life was engulfed with tension and fights with her husband.
She later delivered but, unfortunately, the baby died three days later.

Soon after the misfortune, Chifuniro says she faced abuse in her own homestead.

“He could hardly fend for the family. Things got worse that he could find all sorts of excuses to ignite fights with me.

“I had nowhere to go and had no knowledge about the existence of police Victim Support Unit (VSU). I persevered and regretted to have been influenced by peer pressure to taste the miserable life,” she says.

Despite her endurance, the laws of Malawi set minimum marriage age at 18 without exceptions.

According to a 2019 report by World Vision Malawi on child marriage, close to 42 per cent of girls in Malawi marry before their 18th birthday.

It is against this background that Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) is implementing a five-year More Than Brides Alliance project also known as “Marriage, No Child’s Play” in Mchinji and Mangochi districts.

The project is being championed together with other organisations such as Girls Empowerment Network and Save the Children with the aim of reducing child marriages and its adverse effects on girls and young women.

More Than Brides Alliance ensures that young people, especially girls, are not forced into early marriages and are able to pursue their Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) rights.

In executing activities of the programme, community members are trained as mentors and champions who later form a Youth Empowerment Network to deal with child marriages and its adverse effects in their respective areas.

The members are also equipped with knowledge on SRH services as well as village savings and loans groups to empower them economically.

Chifuniro was privileged to benefit from the project that was introduced to her by members of Youth Empowerment Network.

“Members of the network separately engaged me and my mother on adverse effects of child marriages,” she says.

Chifuniros’ mother, Alinate Kapito, says initially it was difficult to accept her daughter back but she realised that investing in a girl is a foundation for both family and national development.

Kapito says she is happy that her daughter is back to school in that she tries as much as possible to give her the necessary counseling on education.

“I always advise Chifuniro to concentrate on her studies.

“Although challenges abound, I try within my means of selling tomatoes to support her because I want to see my daughter achieve her goals in life and take care of her siblings,” Kapito explains.

Chifuniro works hard because she wants to become a teacher. She attained position two in last term’s examinations.

Group Village Headman Mkhomba Chikwera of Mchinji blames cultural practices and poverty for fueling early marriages.

“Practices such as initiation ceremonies are exposing young girls and boys to things related to sexuality.

They have direct bearing on child marriages.

“Due to poverty, some poorer families marry off their children to reduce their perceived financial burden or to offer them a better life. This is bad,” Chikwera says.

To this effect, he says, with the skills learnt from YONECO, he has joined forces with different people to sensitise his subjects on adverse effects of child marriages.

Mchinji District Assistant Social Welfare Officer Bridget Mwale applauds YONECO for bringing the project to the communities. She says the project has registered great impact in the fight against early marriages in the district.

Statistics at the district’s social welfare office indicate that child marriage cases in TA Zulu have gone down from 87 in 2016 to 21 in 2018.

From July 2018 to July 2019 alone, 255 girls were withdrawn from child marriage out of which 47 marriages were among peers while 208 were between girls and adults.

Out of 208 cases, 188 were successfully concluded while the rest were not because culprits had bolted to neighbouring Mozambique.

Mwale says the statistics indicate that communities are well sensitised on issues of child marriages and are reporting to relevant authorities for action unlike previously when cases were not being reported.

YONECO’s Executive Director MacBain Mkandawire says he is delighted to learn that many girls have been withdrawn from marriages and are back to school while others are engaging in productive activities to support their livelihoods.

“This project has so far made remarkable progress. We have seen community leaders engaging in a campaign to end child marriages while others have even put in place bylaws to fight against the vice.

“In addition, we have made inroads into the cultural systems like initiation ceremonies by engaging initiation counselors to communicate issues of SRH to young people especially girls to prevent early pregnancies,” Mkandawire says.

He adds that the project also encourages the withdrawn girls to join Village Savings and Loans (VSL) groups popularly known as village banks to be empowered economically.

“We believe that VSL is a key to preventing child marriages not only in Mchinji but also in Malawi because based on our report, it shows that most of the girls became pregnant because of poverty.

“To curtail the situation, we encourage them to engage in VSLs so that they can have start-up capital for meaningful small-scale businesses; thereby, building financial resilience,” Mkandawire says.

He calls for continued collaboration among various stakeholders such as the police, churches, traditional leaders and nongovernmental organisations to raise awareness on issues surrounding child marriages

“Let everybody be part of the solution to end child marriage in the country to build a better future for our young girls like Chifuniro,” Mkandawire says