The coincidence must have been planned by the Malawi angel of goodwill.
Some unknown website, quoting World Bank 2013 figures, ranks us the worlds’ poorest. Few days later, Parliament passes a bill that perks marriage age at 18.
To me, the planned coincidence of the two presents a cause and effect scenarios that as a country, we should have critically used to probe our increased retrogress.
I know, both from experience and research, what happens to the country’s development when a girl is educated.
I will tell you a story about my two cousins from different families, set in the remotes of Chikwina in Nkhata Bay.
Elufe was born in 1989, two years after Lusayo. Their parents were, just like a typical Malawian family, subsistence farmers.
They went to the same primary school which Elufe, while 16, dropped in Standard Seven from and got married to a boyfriend who then, was a fisherman.
There was nothing unusual, even to her parents. Most girls, with the blessing of their parents, could be married off as early as 14.
But to Lusayo’s parents and my parents, Elufe’s quick entry into marriage was an issue. They protested, but, alas! her parents were resolute. What with lobola coming their way!
Elufe entered marriage the same year Lusayo was sitting her Primary School Leaving Certificate (PLSCE). With strict parents at home, Lusayo only managed to get selected to Chikwina Community Day Secondary School (CDSS). She was hard working and that paid off when, after colourful grades at Junior Certificate of Examinations (JCE), was selected to a national secondary school. There, she met brilliant fellows, good teachers and, at least, a better learning environment.
Six years later, aged 23, Lusayo graduated as a nurse from the University of Malawi. She got married two years later to a graduate secondary school teacher.
Last year, at 25, she gave birth to a boy. In the eight-plus years, Lusayo was busy with education, her childhood friend Elufe was busy giving birth.
Elufe is 23 with five children and the sixth on the way. She does not work—neither her husband. Their eldest boy is in Standard Four at a government school.
When I met her last year, visibly wrinkled like a 60 year-old, pale and tired, I couldn’t help, but imagine how many children, battered by lack of access to family planning services, she will have if she reaches 30.
It is without expression that the poverty she inherited from her parents will be carried on to the next generation through her many children.
Her children, living without their parents’ encouragement to progress, won’t have access to good education, good health care services and will also marry young. Their lives will be rooted to a small piece of depleted customary land which its productivity capacity will be complicated by climate change. Cycle of poverty.
I am sure if Elufe, who was too young to see beyond the lust of youth hood then, had better parenting like Lusayo, her story would have been different.
She would still have a youthful and well nourished body, few babies, her own income generating activity—simply put, her life and that of her children could have been better.
My two cousin’s story represents why there is a lot of noise for the need to educate girls. Unfortunately, the challenge we have today is that we still have more girls who share Elufe’s story.
If 106 000 teenage girls still get pregnant every year, drop out of school, we should not think that we will move out of poverty.
What is critical in marrying girls is a problem of parentage which unfortunately, is barely considered, even in the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill.
I think we are living in an age when a girl drops out of school, gets pregnant and marries at an early, we blame government. We think our duty as couples is just to procreate, but in terms of taking care of our children, government should do that.
I am happy that my daughter Wezi will not be taken care of by government. As long as I am alive, even in my death, she will not marry at 18. So help me God.