When she was writing the first paper of the 2020 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations in September, Mary Afia, 17, had left her one-month-old baby with her parents.
The teenager, who is a victim of peer pressure, could not let her situation determine her future.
Says Mary: “I was once a very difficult child to handle. I started having sexual relationships at a tender age due to peer pressure.
“Little did I know that I would become a mother and see my future almost crumbling.”
As time went by, she thought it was nothing when she noticed that her menses were not coming up.
Mary pretended that nothing had happened until her mother asked her if she was pregnant.
It was after a medical examination that she was found pregnant. Her her mother advised her to keep the pregnancy return to school after delivery.
With the help of peer promoters and youth club members in the area, Mary was encouraged that being pregnant was not the end of her journalism dream.
She explains: “They really helped me a lot. I commend my family and friends for wishing me well and not forcing me into marriage. The man responsible denied responsibility but my parents did not give up on me.
“Many girls in this area have been pushed into early marriages just because they made a mistake of falling pregnant but my situation was a different one as I got support I never expected.”
Just like Mary, Patricia Ndeketu, 18, from the same Traditional Authority (T/A) Liwonde’s area, says she had to go back to school after delivery when members of the youth group encouraged her to do so.
She says: “When I realised that I was pregnant, I was troubled. I did not know what to do. However, the help and support from my fellow youths gave me the strength to be a better person after delivery.
“I am now a student at Namandanje Community Day Secondary School [CDSS] and I aspire to be a nurse in future. I believe there is more to life than crying over spilt milk. If one makes a mistake, it is easy to correct it and return to normal life.”
Child protection network chairperson in the area Foster Kwawani says the community is joining hands with them when it comes to protecting the rights of children.
He says: “For the past four years, we have registered about 205 cases of teen pregnancies and about 242 early marriage cases. We have tried to end some of the marriages and encouraged girls to return to school after delivery.”
Kwawani, however, explains that misinformation on the issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic has left more girls pregnant and some of them have even ventured into marriage.
“We had to sign agreements with girls who were pregnant to return to school after giving birth. Those in examination classes were also encouraged not to miss the opportunity of writing examinations due to pregnancy or having a child,” he says.
Liwonde Area Development Committee chairperson MacStanford Saidi says gratitude should go to Family Planning Association of Malawi (Fpam) for its Yes I Do project which targets the youth in T/A Liwonde on issues of sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR).
“We were really behind when it comes to SRHR. Women never knew the importance of family planning and how it could help them focus more on their future. Now with the expertise they got from Fpam, we are already seeing major changes,” he adds.
Group village head Liwonde says the coming in of the project has made them strengthen the bylaws that were there to safeguard the girl child.
“Now people are afraid to commit offences of rape, defilement or send their children to early marriages for fear of the punishment that arises when such offences are committed,” he says.
Namandanje CDSS head teacher Chikumbutso Gwaba says it is pleasing to note that a lot of girls are now having the courage to go back to school after delivering their babies.
Machinga district assistant youth officer Sharon Kumwembe says advocating for sexual reproductive health rights and services for the youth has really helped the council to deal with increased number of teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
According to Machinga District Hospital, at least 2 000 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded in the district from January to August.