A Heartrending Tale of a Teenager who Stood against Forced Marriage
Written by Yusuf Khan and Flora Mhone
The case of Mercy from Luwalazi in Nkhata Bay district as told to by Divinous Mzuzmara during one of YONECO’s community gender equality Awareness campaigns bears testimony to the trials and tribulations which young girls more especially those who live in rural and remote parts of Malawi face once they reach adolescence.
Mzumara explained that in 2012 it pained him when Mercy (15 years old then) who was in Form 3 of her secondary school studies was abruptly decreed by her parents to drop out of school so that she should marry a man who was 10 years her senior.
‘It is always lucrative to pay tuition fees for a boy than a girl” were the words Mercy was told by her parents when she refused to drop out school in order to achieve her dream of becoming a journalist.
Upon her refusal, Mercy was reminded that girls are a source of income to their parents when they are married to a well-to-do man. The parents further explained that such a marriage, whether the bride is young or not, is the best gift any girl can give her parents to show appreciation for raising and bringing her to earth.
Like many families in Malawi, the parents had a little disposable source of income in the name of Mercy and were misguided by a belief that girl child education is a pointless exercise worth ignoring.
To her parent’s dismay, 15 year-old Mercy refused to sign matrimonial vows and eventually what was a verbal form of abuse became physical and mote psychological. Her mother began beating her over trivial matters and her father was no saint either as he also used all forms of torture at his disposal.
Nonetheless, Mercy stuck to her guns and faced the consequences of her ‘disobedience’. The trend continued until the innocent girl thought of a safe haven at her neighbours house just to realize her dream of becoming a journalist. Famished and bruised, she managed to survive through the generosity of the neighbour who later on got fed up with clothing and feeding her – Mercy was shown an exit door with nowhere to go.
Mercy was confused, alone and with nowhere to go. Some concerned community members approached Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) for assistance. YONECO’s District Manager and other officers contacted Mercy’s parents who were counseled and cautioned about the consequences of their intentions. The parents later on realized their folly and apologized daughter who is now pursuing a career in journalism and she is very optimistic that her dreams will come true. She has vowed to support her parents once she finishes her studies and she hopes to become an icon of hope among other young girls in her community
Unfortunately, there are thousands of other young girls with such tribulations that are too big for them and they eventually succumb to pressure from parents, relatives and other community members. Forced child marriage is real in Malawi and it is up to all state and non-state actors to contribute towards the fight against the menace.
The legal age for marriage in Malawi is eighteen years. However, like many laws in Malawi, little is being done to implement it and reprimand those who force the underage into marriage. Child marriage is a great concern in Malawi and such lawful matrimonies are more prevalent in the rural areas where harmful traditional norms and practices are greatly affecting the rights and welfare of girls.
Despite several notable and praiseworthy efforts by the Malawi government as well as local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), there is a prominent recess in the efforts of enforcing the laws and consequently, young girls in the country are being impeded from enjoying an equal footing of their human rights.
This is manifested by the low literacy levels among females. Thus, women are given very few options in terms of access to formal employment as well as resources for them to meaningfully engage in income generating activities. Several studies have also indicated that women’s overreliance on their husbands fuels Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Females in most parts of Malawi, whether young or young or old, have been branded as responsible for subsistence farming, guardians of the chronically ill and other gender incentive responsibilities. Women are exposed to such side-line duties at a tender age and they are forced into such depressing situations because of conservative patriarchal norms that are very prevalent in rural areas where a great percentage of Malawians live.