Malawi recently commemorated the Day of the Girl Child. EDWIN NYIRONGO caught up with EveryChild executive director Brussels Mughogho to explain the significance of the day.
What do you mean when you say day of the girl child?
The International Day of the Girl Child set on October 11 is an international observance day declared by the United Nations (UN). The observation supports more opportunities for girls and increases awareness of inequality faced by girls worldwide based on their gender.
This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence and child marriage. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 66/170 on December 19 2011.
When you say â€˜girl childâ€™, what age bracket are you talking about?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (ACRWC) defines a child as anybody below the age of 18. Malawi defines a child as anybody below the age of 16, according to the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act of 2010. That is where, as a member of the civil society, we are joining efforts with other organisations to lobby the government to review the definition of the child. Sixteen years is below the standard that was set by the United Nations and African Charter which is at 18.
What is your assessment of how governments in Africa tackle education for girls?
Governments in Africa are not doing enough in promoting girlsâ€™ education. Mostly, the traditional and social cultural factors favour boys. Government needs to create deliberate policies for promoting educational needs for girls. The situation in typical rural schools in Africa is that the environment is not conducive for girls.
They do not have sanitary facilities in schools, no role models to motivate them to remain in school and even the readmission policy for schools says that when girls fall pregnant, they will drop out of school to take care of the baby and re-enrol after the baby stops breast-feeding. Yet, the policy is silent on the boys.
How big is the problem of early marriages in Malawi?
Child marriage is a big problem in Malawi because it is one of the biggest challenges facing children, mostly girls, whereby one in four (25 percent) girls aged 15-19 years are married, compared to less than two percent of boys (Government of Malawi, Demographic and Health Survey 2010). Our experience in working with communities in Mndolera in Dowa and Bulala in Mzimba show that child marriage affects girls more than boys. This is reflected in the findings from Bulala Baseline Survey (2006) which revealed that 77.2 percent of girls get married at ages between 10 and 18 years whereas 73 percent of the boys get married at the same age range.
You are head of EveryChild in Malawi, what are your organisationâ€™s objectives?
EveryChild is an international development charity working to stop children from growing up vulnerable and alone. More than 24 million children grow up without parental care. Their survival is often threatened by greater risk of malnutrition, violence, exploitation and their future is lost by missing out on school.
Working with local partners, we keep children safe when they are alone and at risk. We protect children in danger of ending up on their own by keeping families together. And we get children back to a safe and caring family, wherever we can.
EveryChild works through seven intervention pillars namely; keeping families together, keeping children safe, getting children back into families, independent supported living, making sure children are heard, learning to do better and influencing and inspiring change.
What have you done so far to arrest the problem of early marriages?
EveryChild Malawi has an advocacy strategy for child marriages aimed at influencing and inspiring positive and sustainable changes in attitudes, beliefs and traditions that fuel child marriage in communities where we work.
Supported by the 2012-15 Country Strategic Plan, EveryChild Malawiâ€™s advocacy objectives are aimed at achieving development and implementation of community by-laws against child marriage in Mndolera and Bulala by 2015; children, parents/guardians and community leaders change their attitudes and beliefs towards child marriage by rejecting it as a bad practice by 2015 and the country pegs a Constitutional minimum age for entry into marriage at 18 or above
Are you satisfied with governmentâ€™s policies on the girl child?
EveryChild, as a member of the civil society, is not convinced with current government policy on the girl child, especially the marriage age. The current law puts marriage age at 16, which means that anybody aged 16 may get married without parental consent while you can marry at 15 years provided there is parental consent.
The law also says that the State will discourage marriage of children below the age of 16. This means that child marriage is not illegal in Malawi. Our laws on children do not conform with other international child rights instruments such as the UNCRC and the ACRWC which Malawi is party to.