At the age of 11, Esther Simwela was in Standard 8 at Phalasito Primary School in Rumphi District. That was in 2014. By 2016, Esther would have been in Form Two had she sat and passed her Primary School Leaving Certificate examinations. But this was not to be.
“My parents were struggling to meet my school needs. So, I fell in love with a 30-year-old man. He said he would marry me if I dropped out of school. I did just that and we got married,” she says.
So, in April 2014, Esther left her mothers’ home and went to her husband’s Chikavinga Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikulamayembe where she thought grass was greener.
“At first we were happy as husband and wife. But things changed when I was five months pregnant. Food became so scarce in the house and my husband started beating me for no apparent reasons. I became pale and weak,” explains Esther, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Had her parents been able to provide her needs, she says she would not have opted for marriage.
“It was not my wish to get married at the age of 11. My parents had nothing. Many nights, we went to bed hungry. My parents could not afford even a single exercise book for me. I thought a husband would take care of me and help feed my parents” explains Esther.
When told of Esther’s problems, her mother, who lives at the foot of Phalasito Hills in Rumphi, decided to take her daughter back home.
Esther delivered her baby two months after returning to her mother’s household.
“When I went to collect her, Esther was very malnourished. I would probably have lost her if I had not rescued her from the marriage,” says Simwela, while denying encouraging her daughter to marry early.
“I did not encourage my daughter into early marriage. I hate that young man. I don’t want to see him again. He would have killed my daughter,” she fumes.
Having heard that Esther was back at her parents’ house, the Phalasito MamaYe Primary School Club visited her to encourage her to return to school.
The club’s patron, a Mrs Tembo, claims it was not easy.
“We tried several times to convince Esther return to school. She told us she was willing but she did not have school materials and uniform. So, as PhalasitoMamaYe club we contributed K80 000 (about $105 dollars). We bought her exercise books, a school uniform and some clothes for her baby. Today we are happy that Esther is back in class,” says Tembo.
In class, Esther’s teachers are full of praise for her performance, saying she is among the top achievers.
Rumphi district Safe Motherhood coordinator Patrick Chirwa advised pupils against marrying at a tender age.
“It is dangerous for girls to get pregnant at a tender age. Their bodies are not mature enough to handle pregnancy, therefore they can easily develop complications such as fistula. We thank God that Esther had a safe delivery,” says Chirwa.
According to the 2010 Malawi Demographic Health Survey, nearly 30 percent of Malawian girls aged between 15 to 19 are married and a third of adolescent women will have been pregnant or given birth by the time they reach 20.
Teen pregnancy is associated with poor health outcomes for woman and baby, but it also affects girls education prospects.