Posted on February 15, 2019
Comments Off on How our Ulemu Project is helping to end child marriage in Malawi
Educating children and enriching communities are at the forefront of our work at the African Children Trust (ACT). In fact, alongside empowering widows, they make up two of our three core aims. Across the eight (8) countries where we have a presence in Africa, we work hard to alleviate poverty by helping as many children as possible to receive an education. Experience has taught us that there can be a link between a family’s inability to pay school fees and child marriage for a girl-child. We felt that if we could bridge the gap through educational support, we would be addressing this issue. However, we found that, in practise, it is not as simple. We have found that even girls receiving scholarship support were dropping out of school in favour of marriage, particularly in Malawi where an estimated 50% of girls are married by the age of eighteen (18[i]). At this point, we realised the extent to which child marriage was deeply ingrained within some cultures, and that it would take more than child sponsorship to solve this concern.
Our solution was once again, education, but this time we ventured outside of the curriculum. Across two schools in Nyezerera Community, Phalombe District, Malawi, we organised “Girl Shower” events where girls were educated about how to best care for their menstrual and sexual health. In addition, the girls received “Blessing packs” containing panties and re-usable sanitary pads. These items will greatly improve the girls’ quality of menstrual care and will also, hopefully, encourage them to attend school on the days they have their period. To secure the long-lasting effects of the project, we engaged the “Mother Group” and taught them how to make reusable sanitary pads and panties for the girls. We also encouraged school boys to participate in the project as part of raising awareness and compassion among the next generation of young men about issues faced by girls which threaten their education.
What is child marriage?
Child marriage is a wide-spread practice that mainly affects girls. It is most prevalent in less developed countries, with many regions in Africa topping the list. [i]The reasons for this practice are manifold – they may be cultural, social, economic and/ or religious in origin, depending on the community in question[ii]. It is not uncommon to hear of families who pressurise their daughters into marriage to pay off debts or be relieved of the burden of their upkeeps. Although, poverty is often a common underlying factor, it is not the sole motivation behind child marriage. In some cases, child marriage is so deeply embedded in the cultural tradition that it happens as a matter of cause.
Whatever the reasons for this practice, which is now considered to be a violation of human rights, [iii]the effects can be long-lasting and damaging to both the victims and the communities where it occurs. Unfortunately, some young brides become pregnant before their body is ready. This can lead to a myriad of life threatening complications for both mother and child. Sadly, research shows that it is not uncommon for child brides to be victims of domestic violence. According to “Girls Not Brides”, an international NGO that came into existence with the aim to end child marriage, girls who are married before they turn fifteen (15) are almost 50% more likely to suffer physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner. Child marriage also has a significant effect on the economic prosperity of a community due to many child brides terminating their education to stay at home and start a family. This, in turn, impacts the wider community as the number of educated women able to make meaningful economic contributions inevitably declines.
What can be done?
Many couples will describe the day they got married as one of the happiest days of their lives. Unfortunately, the same cannot necessarily be said for the 12 million child brides [i]who are married each year worldwide. For them, their wedding day can be a day of fear, disillusionment and mourning, as they grieve the loss of their childhood innocence and freedom.
ACT will continue to gear its projects towards protecting the lives and the dignity of children whose education are at risk.
Our Ulemu Project is already making a difference in the lives of many girls in Malawi and we would like to extend it to the other countries where we work. If you would like to find out more and support our Ulemu Project, click here.