In February, I took a minibus between Lauderdale Tea Estate to Muloza Border. Near Mimosa, a girl with a baby on her back jumped into the minibus and she kept behaving so childishly that she forced virtually all passengers into thinking that the baby was not hers. We would later learn from her friend that she was only 12 years old and the baby was hers. She was in her second marriage, the friend of hers said. We were astounded.
While early marriages in the country are rampant, a 12-year-old mother in second marriage is shocking.
This lifestyle invariably puts pressure on the health budgets as complications of childbearing are more common among adolescents whose bodies are too immature to carry a baby for nine months.
Risky childbirths and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are some of the byproducts of unprotected sex which the youth are sometimes advised to carry out.
This burden on our budget is huge and costly because almost 90 percent of money that buys drugs for Malawians comes from donors who will not help us forever.
The Mulanje is common in remote areas where I work.
To many girls, education plays second fiddle to marriage.
This status quo is promoted by agents of culture, especially elderly women or anamkungwi whom communities hire to counsel adolescent girls to mark transition to adulthood.
What boggles me is the day-and-night difference in terms of their love for education and rush into risky sexual affairs.
When the adolescents go into initiation camps, an overdose of information is imparted to them.
This could be the reason the minors, after graduating from these initiation camps, are attracted to early marriages and other risky sexual tendencies the same way the Piranhas in the Amazon Forest are attracted to the smell of blood.
It appears their minds are polluted against education. After all, most of the counselors are not learned even though they are expected to entrench in the girls’ passion for school.
Our young girls are erroneously assured while at initiation camps that they can do anything with their bodies. They are sometime told that age is just a number instead of being senstised at that early age to the multiple risks of sexual intercourse and multiple partners, including unwanted pregnancies, STIs, HIV and Aids and exposure to cervical cancer.
Going forward, I think we as a country can protect these girls by changing the contents imparted to them.
There is need to regulate what adolescents are told at these initiation camps.
We do not need to be rocket scientists to see that it does not make any sense to flood girls as young as nine with information about marriage.
Some of the information imparted to these girls can and should wait.
It is also important to start using retired professionals, especially teachers and nurses, to counsel these young girls.
The bright side of using these professionals is that they may be able to counsel these kids while encouraging them to concentrate on their studies. They will also act like role models to our sisters who hitherto believe that their best place is in the kitchen.
We should admit that we have immeasurably failed to protect the girl child. Our culture has let young girls down. It has encouraged our girls to be deflowered at young age thereby putting them at high risk of developing cervical cancer.
Now is the time to change how we do things given an uninspiring revelation by Weekend Nation of October 29 2016 that Malawi has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world, affecting round about 3 684 women, with nearly 500 of them surviving. n