Apart from early marriages, teenage pregnancies remain one of the biggest problems among children below the age of 18 in Malawi. One of the districts which are still facing such a problem is Chikwawa district, which, according to facts, it is the second-largest district in the Southern region of Malawi.
Harmful cultural practices seem to be one of the major root causes of teenage pregnancies among many girls in the district with Chinamwali and Njole being some of the major practices that expose girls who have not had their 15th birthdays to teenage sexual intercourse making them risk their lives in contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unexpected teenage pregnancies.
This also sees a lot of girls in rural Malawi regretting their bright future after dropping out of school while in their primary school classes due to pregnancies.
One of the young girls who almost lost her future of continuing with her education is Fyness Godfrey who is now 22 years of age. At the age of 13, when she was in standard 6 at Chidyamanga primary school at Gogo village, Group Village Head (GVH) Gogo, Traditional Authority (T/A) N’gabu in Chikwawa district, Fyness started not taking her education seriously and decided to have a boyfriend. She fell in love with a certain man who promised to marry her.
Her mind switched from focusing on her education to how she is going to start another journey of life with the man (name withheld).
“I used to not take school seriously and got pregnant to a man who promised to marry me, and later, found out that he was only just lying to me after he got me pregnant,” said Fyness.
Soon after getting pregnant, Fyness was forced to abstain from going to school and stay at home to take care of her pregnancy. This seemed as if it was the end of Fyness’s education journey as she used to stay at home with her parents and her future of going back to school was lost.
Her mother, Chrissy Masakala, said that she was very disappointed when she witnessed that her daughter, Fyness, was pregnant for she realized that it will mark the end of her daughter’s future.
“Tears never stopped shedding in my eyes knowing that my daughter was no longer going to continue with her education as she would be forced to take care of her pregnancy and even the baby after the education,” said Chrissy.
Chrissy said that she did not even have time to encourage Fyness in the hope of returning to school after delivering the baby as she used to believe that any girl child cannot get back to school after delivering a baby.
The future of Fyness was redefined when her father, Godfrey Masakala, was chosen to be one of the beneficiaries of the Breakthrough Action project which is being implemented by Save the Children in consortium with Creative Centre for Community (CRECCOM) with funding from USAID.
Godfrey said that as a father, he was not very concerned with the future of her daughter Fyness as it was one of the social norms in his community where children below the age of 18 could get pregnant and even married until he received some training on loving my family, children, child rights and human rights until he was trained as one of the ‘real fathers’ under Breakthrough Action project.
“Before receiving the training, I used to never bother myself and even shaking my wife in ensuring that Fyness gets back to school after delivering the baby. After the training, I have encouraged her to go back to school and continue with her education since the training also involved the importance of child rights like the right to education,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey appreciates the training since he used to just watch Fyness at home even after delivering the baby by not encouraging her to continue with her education.
Fyness is now back to school and her mother takes care of her baby while she is at school. Fyness wishes to become a medical doctor and help her parents after getting the job.
Apart from sending her girl child back to school after delivering her baby, Godfrey said that he continues to reach out to other households that are not sending their children back to school after they got pregnant and opted them for marriage just to escape from the jaws of poverty.
“I have reached 5 households on the danger of harmful cultural practices that are fueling teenage pregnancy and child marriages. As of now, girls who used not to go to school are now going to school,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey also said that he can reach out to boys that used to abscond classes by not regarding education as a key for their bright future.
One of the Mentor fathers at Group Village Head (GVH) Nkhwangwa, Harry Gemstar, said that the training they have received under the Breakthrough Action project has come at the right time as there were high cases of early marriages and school dropout rates were very high.
“Children that dropped out from school have been returned to school following the training as we have been able to reach out to households where most of the parents were not aware of the importance of educating their children,” said Harry.
Despite that every group of people tends to have their cultural practices, it has been noticed by Godfrey that some cultural practices have been at the forefront in sowing early marriages and pregnancies at Gogo village.
“Chinamwali and Njole are some of the cultural practices that have led to an increase in teenage pregnancies in our area. For example, with Njole most girls expose their nakedness to boys and this persuades boys and girls in indulging in unprotected sexual intercourse.
The mindset for Masakala family has now being transformed on a girl’s future that there is a possibility that any girl can go back to school soon after delivering a baby and that different harmful cultural practices that are practiced in their community need to be eradicated to ensure bright future of their children.