Instead of enjoying her childhood like any normal child, Rezina Luntha, 18, from Mbotola Village, Traditional Authority Malenga in Ntchisi District endured an abusive marriage from the age of 13.
Unlike her peers who find themselves in her shoes because their parents are poor and jobless, her father was a primary school teacher who unfortunately found leisure in beer; hence, neglected his family.
Says Rezina: “My mother is a housewife with no financial means to help the family. We rely on my father to provide for the family. However, his lifestyle is not that pleasant as most of the time he is always drunk.”
She says sometimes they go hungry due to lack of money to buy food.
It was situations such as these that made Rezina date men for support.
She says she was 13 when she started sleeping with men for survival.
“I had no choice. I couldn’t go to school without food and decent clothes. Finding school materials like notebooks and pens was also hard. That time I had just written my Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations, but the future looked blurry,” says Rezina.
It did not take time before she found herself dating a 35-year-old man who claimed to have separated from his wife.
Rezina accepted his marriage proposal and she says she did it for the sake of her mother and siblings.
“I thought he would ably support me throughout the marriage, but I was wrong. When I was pregnant with my first child, he used to beat me for no reason.
“But I had to endure the hardships of marriage knowing if I step out my family would continue suffering,” she says.
To her surprise, nothing changed. The husband could not fully provide for Rezina’s family and the continued beatings nearly took her life.
Narrates Rezina: “This was worse because I was just a child. And giving birth for the first time at 14 was risky. But by God’s grace, I survived.”
However, the teenager says she continued staying in the marriage until she was pregnant with her second child.
“It was my mother who called me back home after four years of marriage. In 2019 I enrolled as a night scholar at Chinthembwe Community Day Secondary School where I am now in Form Two,” says Rezina.
Her story reflects what many other young girls in the country go through as almost 50 percent of girls in Malawi are married before the age of 18 with the situation being fuelled up by socio-cultural factors, among others.
Despite the adoption of the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill in 2015 which changed the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 18, there are still challenges on the implementation of the law.
Now back in school, Rezina says she aspires to be a nurse to be able to help the sick. She says her motivation came about when a young nurse saved her life during her first childbirth.
Luckily for the young mother, when she went back to school, she was among the lucky youths in Ntchisi who got a bursary from the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM).
Courtesy of the bursary, Rezina gets school fees, school materials and a monthly stipend.
She says: “Currently, I am able to go to school every day and aside from having challenges at home, I am thankful for being given a second chance to turn my life around.”
EAM Health Commission national coordinator Howard Kasiya says Rezina is benefiting from the institution’s project which is targeting the youth living in abusive homes and those who were married at a tender age.
He says: “Our aim is to empower these girls and boys economically. We understand that there are a number of reasons why they found themselves in those situations and if we just revoke them from marriages without proper planning, they will definitely go back.
“As such, we have come up with the bursary and the vocational skills aspect to aid them so that when they come out of those early marriages, they have something to do, either go back to school or learn a trade.”
Another beneficiary of the project, Pofera Johnson, 20, from Traditional Authority Chilooko in Ntchisi, says although parents have the responsibility to care for their children, the youth have to be responsible for their own lives and protect one another from child marriages.
For child rights activist Amos Chibwana, he says one area which needs to be considered to end child marriages is for children to be safe in their communities.
“We need parents to be fully responsible for their children by providing for them. Poverty has been a driving factor of teen pregnancies and child marriages. I believe if tackled, we might save the future generation from the jaws of child marriages,” he says.