Child marriage is a serious problem in Malawi. The 2017 constitutional amendment raising the age of marriage to 18, for both boys and girls, was a significant milestone. However, many cases of child marriage persist. About 42 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, and nine per cent before the age of 15, writes Unicef’s SHORAI NYAMBALO.
Soft-spoken Jausa Silika, 38, is someone every ambitious girl child looks up to in Mkata Village, T/A Chowe in Mangochi.
Trained as a community nursing and midwife, she is part of the team that helps mothers deliver 70 live babies in a month at Malombe Health Centre, located 41 kilometres East of Mangochi Town.
“I was employed to be a midwife at Malombe Health Centre in 2014 and I am proud of what I have done so far. I never imagined I would reach where I am,” says Jausa, reminiscing the path she has trodden to reach where she is now.
In 2012, she enrolled at Holy Family College of Nursing to do midwifery under a government programme aimed at training midwives to work in community health centres who later were deployed to communities to work there.
She graduated in 2014 with a Certificate in Midwifery and passed the obligatory Nurses and Midwives Council exams, clearing her way to start practising at a health centre.
“I just had the passion to do school. Despite my aunt’s support, on my own I had this burning desire to do school, partly because of what my uncle was telling me about the importance of school,” says the mother of two.
The first girl child from Malombe community to become a midwife and work in the same area, Jausa has so far worked in two health centres of Malombe and Katuli in the same district since graduating from college.
News of her success has spread like bush fires with more organisations asking her to perform roles at their community events as a role model to girl children who are dropping out of school to get married.
To give back to her community, she would go and teach at Namasu Primary School where she started schooling to encourage the girl child remain in school.
Her new role as a midwife in the area has made most girls in the area hope for the better, provided they remain focused on education and avoid early marriages.
Although Jausa bathes in this glory of success and limelight in the areas, she has fought many battles all the way to becoming a midwife, including ditching a polygamous husband.
“I was cheated in marriage. I discovered the husband had other two wives which made me very difficult to stay and decided to leave and continue with education,” says Jausa, a 13th born in a family of 15 children who aspires to be a fully registered nurse and midwife technician by the Nurses and Midwife’s Council of Malawi.
Undaunted with life’s chain of misery, Jausa’s trouble, however, started when she was staying with her uncle in Blantyre while attending school at a privately owned Islamic secondary school.
Sooner than she arrived at her uncle’s place, the cousin from South Africa also arrived at the same place to start living with them.
Unfortunately, Jausa got pregnant to her cousin from South Africa, and when the uncle got wind of the story, he sent her back home in Mangochi where she gave birth to her first child- Yusuf Twabi in 2000 at the age of 17. Consequently, she had to drop out of school.
However, life became so unbearable in the village that she went back to her uncle and start anew, thanks to the support she received from her aunt.
“My uncle refused me to continue with school because he felt I didn’t like school and proposed that I do business instead. It was his wife, my aunt, who convinced him that I go back to school where I re-started in Form 2 just to catch up with the rest of the students,” she said.
It was only in 2006 when Jausa passed her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) at Msalura Community Day Secondary School, following the transfer of her uncle from Blantyre to Salima.
“When I came here in Mangochi I was a star because with MSCE in hand, people could not believe it was the same girl whom they knew.
“With this academic paper, T/A Chowe exposed me to several activities as a volunteer and would go round with several organisations as a role model, and would do volunteer work at Namasu Primary school where I got my primary education,” she says.
But upon return to Mangochi, she decided to end her problems the wrong way by marrying someone she didn’t know was polygamous and later abandoned the marriage as soon as she gave birth to her second child—Zaujati Winesi.
Jausa advises girls to remain focused and take education seriously while refraining from early sexual activities.
“Learn first and marriage later. For those who already got pregnant while in school, don’t lose hope but continue until you achieve what you want just like I did,” she advises.
Looking back in the past 20 years when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action came into force, Jausa says a lot of positive developments have taken place with girls now being allowed to return to school after dropping out due to pregnancy.
Besides, chiefs are collaborating well with religious bodies in the area, with communities and schools raising awareness about the importance of girl’s education as well as stopping girls from early marriage.
“As chiefs, we have come up with village rules against early marriages which has helped in curbing increased number of early marriages and allowing girls to remain in school,” says T/A Chowe.
“Whenever there is a community meeting, I make sure I say something about encouraging girls to remain in school. There are also village rules which run against early marriages and whoever marries off girl children, they are punished heavily,” he adds.
Child marriage is a serious problem in Malawi. The 2017 constitutional amendment raising the age of marriage to 18, for both boys and girls, was a significant milestone. However, many cases of child marriage persist. About 42 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, and 9 per cent before the age of 15.
The main drivers of child marriage are poverty, cultural and religious traditions, and peer pressure. Unicef is working with the Government of Malawi to protect girls and boys from sexual violence including child marriage and other harmful practices.
An important aim of Unicef’s country programme is increased knowledge and understanding among communities of harm associated with child marriage.
Unicef works to abolish practices and behaviours harmful to children, while ensuring they have access to child protection services, good health and education. Partnerships with community leaders break social norms that enable child marriages.
“We are partnering with traditional and religious leaders to break social norms that enable child marriages,” says Unicef Malawi’s Chief of Child Protection Afrooz Kaviani Johnson.
“Social and cultural beliefs relating to sexuality, child marriage and the position of girls in society, contribute to the normalisation of violence against children and gender-based violence” she added. n