Pregnant at 14, rues polygamy

 

Alinate is back to school, but everyday challenges persist, UNFPA communications manager Henry Chimbali writes.

 

At 14, Alinate married a polygamous man to fend off poverty. But she had another problem: she was pregnant while waiting for Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination [PLSCE] results.

She explained: “I married aged 14 in 2014 because of extreme poverty and due to my early pregnancy. My parents did not reprimand me. They simply supported my decision because they felt my marriage would lift a burden off their shoulders.”

Born in Mchinji, Alinate and her family settled in Dedza. The firstborn in a family of five first left her parents’ home when she got married.

“Both of them are unemployed. We survive on limited subsistence farming,” she says.

Alinate (L) with her family members

Polygamy, abuse

Her polygamous marriage was full of abuse.

Her ex-husband continued his relationship with his first wife.

“Sometimes, he would go and spend a month with other women. It made me question my marriage,” she lamented

Alinate did not know the man’s age though she recalled he told her he was born in the 1980s.

Married for 11 months, she suffered economic, verbal and physical abuse from the husband. It was a nightmare.

 

Enter Kachindamoto

“During my marriage, I heard about Chief Kachindamoto ending child marriages in Dedza.  I didn’t know how to reach out to them,” she explained.

Due to her age, Alinate was identified as one of the girls who needed support to return to school.

Chief Kachindamoto and Esther Ntandasha, from the Mother Group in the area, met and spoke to her about ending the marriage and going back to school.

“I opened up to them about many problems I was facing. I wanted to go back to school, but did not have school fees. They told me that they would assist with paying for my fees through the Go Back to School Foundation and also speak to my parents to provide any assistance they could afford,” she explained.

At 16, she returned to school and started Form One at Mtakataka Community Day Secondary School where she is learning.

 

Struggles linger

Despite being back in school, girls like Alinate are still deprived of basic needs girls to attend school every day.

Without the scholarship, her parents would still struggle to pay her school fees worth about K7 000 a term.

While she hopes for a better future, challenges continue to affect her life both at home and school.

“Oftentimes, I don’t even have bathing soap among other SRH [sexual reproductive health] needs. I hope the school fees will continue because I want to be educated and support myself and my daughter in future,” she said.

In spite of continued problems, she said thoughts of dropping out of school again do not cross her mind.

“I want to be a nurse because I am intrigued by their work for fellow Malawians,” said the girl who loves physics and chemistry.

She does them quite well. She has no hobbies.

“During my free time, I sell mandasi [fritters] to get some money to help my family,” she explained.

End child marriages

Alinate implores government to aggressively work towards ending all child marriages in the country and consistently follow up on whether girls saved from annulled marriage keep going to school.

She also asks government to find out the challenges faced by the girls once they return to school and address them.

From 2013 to 2016, UNFPA Malawi in collaboration with Ministry of Gender, Children Disability and Social Welfare implemented the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment programme (Gewe) with funding from the European Union.

The interventions included advocacy towards ending child marriages.

In April this year, President Peter Mutharika assented to a constitutional amendment that outlaws marriage involving girls below age 18.

The amendment, together with the Marriage Act of 2015, protects girls like Alinate to finish school and get empowered to achieve their dreams.

The National Statistical Office reports that about 47 percent of women and girls in Malawi marry before their 18th birthday.

Effective action against early marriages can be the key to unlocking a bright future for Malawian girls.

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This series of untold stories of girls will be launched tomorrow at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe.

 

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