For many girl children of ages between 12-14 years in most of Malawi, they are indulged in initiation ceremonies that expose most of them to harmful cultural practices that leave most of them in regret after contracting Sexually Transmission Infections (STIs) and even at a burden of an unexpected pregnancy. This shuttles doors for many teenage children and this forces them to get married while young. This increases the rate of early marriages in Malawi and even poverty in the country as most of them are left by the impregnators after they deliver their babies.
Surprisingly, most of cultural practices tend to happen when children are in school. This makes most of them miss their classes for two to three weeks in a roll. This makes them not have enough focus on their studies. Since such cultures as Chinamwali and Njole tend to expose most teenage children to sexual intercourse acts, they tend to try such practices when they are released to go back to school.
As for girls, most cultures tend to expose the girls to one guy called fisi who would sleep with all the girls in the name of removing childhood in them. Since this is the case, most of the girls tend to marry once getting out of the initiation ceremony for they think that they are old enough to have a man in their lives. This increases the rates of child marriages and school dropout rates in the country. One of the districts where such practices are common is Chikwawa district
In the district, there is Brandina at Group Village Head Chisiyidwa, Traditional Authority N'gabu, who is only 15 years old but got married at the age of 13 after attending Chinamwali in 2019. During this, Brandina was in standard 5 and was considered one of the hard-working students at Bodza primary school in the village as she was in position 7 in her class before dropping out of school to get married to a boy from standard 8 at the school who promised to marry each other.
Brandina said that the two had plans to start staying together after getting married and forget about school.
"After attending the initiation ceremony last year in 2019, a month did not end when I met a guy from standard 8 who proposed to me and promised to marry me as well. Since I was told at the initiation ceremony that I will no longer be a child once I get out of the initiation ceremony, I didn't hesitate to accept his proposal," said Brandina
When her mother, Doreen Chisiyidwa, who is a single mother and has two children, Brandina and her older sister, heard about this, she said that she was very disappointed and didn't know what to do as the older sister also dropped out of school while in form two and got married.
" I used to think that if maybe the older sister finished her education and got a job, Brandina could have got some motivation on the importance of education and not opt to drop out of school and marry at a tender age of 13," said Chisiyidwa
The mother said that she tried advising her that getting married at a tender age would lead to an increase in the already existing poverty.
This did not knock on the door of Brandina as she started staying with her newly-wedded husband.
When Chief Chasiyidwa heard about this situation, he did not just stay idle but worked on the matter. This follows the training that he received under Breakthrough Action funded by USAID through Save the Children and implemented by Creative Center for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM) in Chikwawa district
Chasiyidwa said that he received training with CRECCOM under the Breakthrough Action project on different harmful cultural practices, how to deal with the practices to ensure that children remain in school, and that, there are no cases of early marriages and teenage pregnancies in the village.
"Our duty on fighting against harmful cultural practices in the village was being sharpened during the training where we were told that it is not proper to be conducting harmful cultural practices when children are at school since this discourages them from working hard in their education," said Chasiyidwa
He said that there were kusasafumbi and Unamwali where girls were being exposed to a man called fisi who could have sexual intercourse and sleep with them.
So Chasiyidwa went to meet with Brandina and her husband and advised them on the dangers of early marriages.
"I advised them on the importance of education and even the dangers of early marriages to say that it fuels poverty in the country and it is against the law of the country and even most organizations are against it," said Chasiyidwa
Chasiyidwa also said that he has set several bylaws against early marriages and conducting harmful cultural practices in the villages by imposing a certain fine to anyone who would be found doing such an act.
"Parents in my village are no longer marrying off their children at a tender age and even those that used to never go to school are working hard in their studies," said Chasiyidwa
Chasiyidwa also said that he went to meet with other community leaders such as religious leaders, and Group Village Heads, and even conducted awareness campaigns, and home visits to community members it wants them about harmful cultural practices, and even the importance of sending their children back to school.
This was done because many parents were having a mindset of saying that children in the village are not supposed to go further with their education but rather marry them off when they see that they are old enough.
As for the issue to do with education, they were only making sure that they know how to read and write and then get married off.
Chasiyidwa said that he has managed to end 2 child marriages in his village of which one is one of Brandina.
Precious Chikhaza, a Community Policing officer for Chisiyidwa, said that they are working hand in hand with community leaders to ensure that children stay in school and that there are no cases of pregnancies and even dropout rates.
"The training has helped us to have new techniques on how we can reach out to more people in our communities on ending harmful cultural practices by uniting with chiefs and other community leaders," said Chikhaza.
Chakhaza also added that initiation ceremonies that occurred when children were at school used to fuel child marriages, and teenage pregnancies.
“Dzoma, and Unamwali were some of the cultural practices that caused many children below the age of 15 to drop out of school, contract sexually transmitted infections and others as they were asked to try some of the practices that were being done at the initiation ceremonies and most of them were very nasty,” said Chakhaza