According to research, in Malawi, 42% of girls are married before the age of 18 and the country is the twelfth highest rate of child marriages, I'm the world. Most of the time, girls are vulnerable to the effects of child marriage and extreme poverty, forced sex, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, domestic abuse, and physically demanding agricultural work.
According to facts, only 35 percent of children in Malawi complete primary school, and this low ratio can be attributed to multiple factors. Malawi is one of the developing nations in the southern region of Africa, the country is still facing child marriage issues in most parts of its 28 districts. One of the districts in Chikwawa. Dropping out of school is also common in Chikwawa district due to cultural practices, child marriages, pregnancy, and contracting HIV/AIDS due to unprotected sexual intercourse among the children. One of the children who dropped out of school is Ellen Mpungula. Ellen is from Hainek Village, Traditional Authority Jombo in Chikwawa district.
Ellen is happy to be back to school
“I got pregnant when I was only just 14 years old and this was in 2019,” said Ellen.
When she was asked why she got pregnant, Ellen responded that she decided to drop out of school when she was in standard 7 due to peer pressure.
“I used to envy my friends who had boyfriends since they used to buy them things during the break time,” said Ellen.
Two months down the line, Ellen also got a boyfriend so the boyfriend should be buying her things over the break time.
Ellen also used to envy women who were married and had children thinking that they were enjoying themselves with their families. Her boyfriend was still living in his parent’s house and was literary doing nothing to earn a living.
“Then I got pregnant with the guy and dropped out of school and got married to the man thinking that I am going to find happiness from the family,” said Ellen.
After staying with the man and giving birth to two female twins, Ellen said that the man started changing colors as he was abusing her.
“I was being beaten for no tangible reason and even doing household chores that were beyond my age, eating once a day and this was very painful,” said Ellen.
With the coming of the Breakthrough Action project, the life of Mercy changed for the better. Ellen said that as she was facing all different forms of abuse from her husband, she says a team of women came to her house to ask her to go back to school.
A Mentor for Traditional Authority Jombo under breakthrough action, Mercy Banda, said that after she realized that Ellen has dropped out of school and is married, she did not just stay idle but took an action towards it.
“As a mentor on ending child marriages and even a wife to Senior Chief Jombo, I did not just stay idle knowing that Ellen is one of the future leaders of my community but to end the marriage and ensure that she returns to school following the knowledge I acquired from breakthrough Action from the seven thematic areas I learned,” narrated Banda.
Community Action Group (CAG) is also one of the stakeholders that Breakthrough Action is working with within Chikwawa and Machinga districts as a way of ensuring that children stay in school.
CAG was established at Group Village Jombo as a way of making follow-up of child marriages in the community for the sake of ending them so that education should be enhanced.
One of the members of CAG, Doreen Mananse, who is also a Community Mobilization Team member said that they reached out to both parents of Ellen and the boyfriend and advised them on the dangers of child marriage and the importance of education.
Doreen said that through the Breakthrough Action, they learned about seven pillars of which one is the protection of the girl child from the marriage. After that, they looked for the drivers of child marriages and harmful cultural practices.
“After giving this advice, we were assisted by Banda so that the marriage should be ended and Ellen is now back to parent’s home and is now back to school,” said Mananse.
Mananse said that apart from advising the parents on the importance of education, Ellen was also motivated by the importance of working hard on education rather than envying married women.
Christina Nthache, who is the mother of Ellen said that she is very grateful to Breakthrough Action since her child is now back to school and she is offering all the support in terms of school fees, pocket money, and others to keep her child-focused in her education.
“I do make a follow-up on her exercise books when she knocks off from school to ensure she is writing and even reading her notes. I do stay at home to take care of her two little children so that she stays focused on her education and I get money to support her by doing peace works,” narrated Nthache.
Ellen's mother going through her notebooks after knocking off from school
Ntchache said that when CAG approached her, this made her apply more effort in encouraging her on her education bearing in mind that I am a single mother and she is the only child I have, said Nthache.
Ellen said that she would like to become a teacher when she finishes her education as she also teaches and advises her fellow students on the importance of education.