Rose Mwale, 18, got pregnant last year while in Form Two at Mitundu Secondary School in the capital, Lilongwe.
She lost her parents and now lives with her elder sister, 20.
“They left us a piece of land where we live now,” says Mwale.
“The parents, however, did not have a garden and we also do not have one to cultivate on for our survival. We survive on earnings from piecework,” she adds.
Life has been tough for the two girls.
While in Form Two, Mwale’s life reached a tight noose as she repeatedly found herself lacking K3 500 ($9) to pay for school fees.
“I could not even afford to buy school uniform, which costs around K1 800 ($5). Basically, it has been a journey up the hills to live,” she adds.
Then she devised a plan on how to get the basics in life—she got a boyfriend.
“The guy was a driver. He used to have money and would support me financially. He promised to marry me at the appropriate time,” says Mwale.
But last year, she became pregnant.
“I broke the news to my boyfriend. He refused to take responsibility and said he wouldn’t marry me,” says Mwale.
While three months pregnant, Mwale decided to quit school for fear of being scorned by fellow students.
Though she ditched school, she did not run away from the rebuke.
The same friends and foes she had avoided to face within the school campus bumped into her elsewhere.
“They made fun of me for becoming pregnant while young. I was miserable,” recalls Mwale.
She gave birth to a baby boy in March this year. She now wants to return to school and fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse.
“If I manage to get school fees, I will definitely go back to school this September. My sister has offered to look after the baby,” she says.
Mwale is one of many girls who fall prey to teenage pregnancies.
The 2010 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that about 152 in every 1 000 girls aged between 15 and 19 become pregnant.
National programme officer, monitoring and evaluation at United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA), Bernard Mijoni, says the 2008 Population Census pegged the figure at 193 in every 1 000 girls of the same age bracket.
“If we compare with other countries in the region, you will find that the figure in Malawi is very high,” he further indicates.
He says one way to reverse this trend is to ensure gender balance in society.
“You find that usually, girls are impregnated not by age mates but older men who entice them with money. Also issues of culture and religion fuel the trend,” adds Mijoni.
He also bemoaned the marriage age, which is currently at 15. He says UNFPA and many other international bodies would love the age to be revised upwards to 18.
Hans Katengeza, youth friendly services national coordinator at the Ministry of Health, says policies and other interventions such as creating awareness among the girls help guide government and other stakeholders in meeting the needs of the youth.
“There is also a National Youth Friendly Health Services Programme that offers an environment conducive for the youth to access youth friendly services in government hospitals,” he says.
All these efforts are to help girls such as Mwale to fulfil their human potential.
Having realised need to save girls from risks associated with teenage pressures, youths at Mitundu Trading Centre formed Mitundu Youth Organisation to which Mwale is a member.
“We started a programme called twinning where we target primary school girls. We pair them with role models who act as their mentors. There are over 10 girls in the programme and they run a sewing business where the proceeds go towards buying or paying for their basic needs,” says Sibongile Nkosi, the organisation’s programme officer.
Indeed, protecting girls from teenage pregnancies, diseases and school dropouts requires concerted efforts by government, civil society and communities.