Since I joined Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) in 2015 to this point, my life and passions have completely changed. It is like I underwent a vale clarification exercise that has transformed my entire self.
Initially, I was so passionate about politics but now the romance has shifted from that angle to an interest in the rights and welfare of the youth, women, and children as well as sexual reproductive health rights of all people.
During my two-year stay at YONECO, as a Bureau Chief for YONECO FM Radio Station, I have realized the changes I have made at subconscious level. After a thorough stock taking, I have realized that the stories that I have been contributing for YFM News Bulletins have always been aimed at contributing towards ending poverty as well as tackling its various root causes.
As Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Girl Child, I would like to highlight issues pertaining to gender disparity and challenges facing young girls. I would also like to propose viable ways which countries can use to work together in order to address these challenges. Just a reminder; the theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is “the Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.” But wait a minute, how can countries, including Malawi, achieve this vision when child marriage is still prevalent and the girl child is facing a lot of restrictions and violation of her sexual reproductive health rights?
This is what compelled me to write something about how SRHR of the girl child is worth all the necessary attention. Child marriage and other violations of girls’ SRHR have increased the vulnerability of adolescent girls in every society especially those who live in the developing countries. The girl child is heavily affected by various sexual reproductive health challenges as compared to her male counterpart.
As an illustration to what I am saying, allow me to share a sad story of a 15 year-old girl from Mchinji district which is located in the central region of Malawi. For the sake of this entry, allow me to call her Mwayiwawo. The young girl was rescued from the jaws of an arranged child marriage by volunteers and staff of YONECO through Marriage No Child Play Project. The Marriage No Child’s Play Project is being implemented in Malawi by YONECO and other partners in what is called the More Than Brides Project. The project is being funded by the Dutch government through SIMAVI.
Mwayiwawo was in standard seven when she was taken to Mozambique by her boyfriend who was 11 years older than her. Upon reaching Mozambique, she was exposed to all sorts of harsh treatment from her husband and in-laws who seemed like good people before they took her from her parents’ house. Mwayiwawo’s parents willfully ‘sold’ their daughter as what lingered in their minds at that time was a good life in a foreign country and possibly a new era for them as well. Alas! What Mwayiwawo went through was catastrophic – a kind of modern slavery. Sometimes Mwayiwawo would go to bed with empty stomach and travels long distance to fetch water.
News about Mwayiwawo’s misery spread like wild fire and kept on lingering in the air like a strong perfume. Her parents were shocked after learning that their daughter is being abused in Mozambique. Without much ado, the parents reported the matter to Male Champions who were trained by YONECO in the area who were trained by YONECO male champions in the fight against child marriages in the area. The champions contacted YONECO officers and resolved to follow the girl and managed to annul her marriage and successfully withdrew her.
Mwayiwawo was lucky to be rescued as many girls are secretly married off before their eighteenth birthday.
Most Southern African countries have this challenge. As the world commemorated this year’s International Day for the Girl Child, let us remember that child marriage is an enemy to the envisaged developed society. Millions of girls worldwide are living in abject poverty and poor health due to child marriage. Child brides are exposed to a number of psychological and health hazards mostly emanating from the burden of child bearing as well as Gender Based Violence (GBV). Child marriage is also one of the contributing factors to so many socioeconomic challenges that developing countries are experiencing.
This year’s theme is focusing on supporting the welfare of a girl child so that by 2030 every girl should not be looked down but being appreciated as an important member of the society who can significantly contribute to the development of the society. This ambitious dream can only be realized by investing into the rights and welfare of young people.
Countries need to focus on empowerment of girls. There is a need to raise community awareness on SRHR. There is also a need to enact and strengthen laws that promote the rights and welfare of the girl child.
Let me finish this entry by saying this phrase; “Investing in adolescent girls today means empowered women of tomorrow”. This is the only way countries can achieve the 2030 vision.