By Grolia Nazombe
In most cases, girls are seen as voiceless and are vulnerable to different types of abuses and violence. This is mostly perpetuated by our culture that regard a boy or a man as the head of the house hence no decision especially at a family level can be made without the man. They are even hopeless when impregnated and this is the major contributing factor for high school dropout rates for girls.
However, in such an era hearing from Patricia Banda and Martha Saka from Zakeyu village Traditional Authority (T/A) Khonsolo in Mzimba district, the phenomenon life is what you make can no longer be philosophized. According to Patricia Banda, nothing can stop her from realizing her dream. “I got pregnant when I was in form two. This made me to drop out of school. When I gave birth, I decided to go back to school but I had no school fees, so I started to do some piece works of which I managed to raise MK4000.00 and paid for my school fees. Unfortunately, it became difficult to raise more money so I found a prospective husband who promised to pay for my school fees when we get married. So we got married.
Things were smooth at first but when I got pregnant and bore twins, everything else changed to the extent that he chased me, so I returned home. I am raising the twins alone without his support now and through the Collective Action against Violence in Schools project implemented by ActionAid, I was encouraged to go back to school and here I am. I am now waiting for the 2017 Malawi Secondary school Certificate Examinations (MSCE) results of which am certain I will pass and proceed to college. Nothing and no one can stop me from realizing my dream,” Patricia stressed with a sure tone.
According to T/A Khonsolo, the area has poor education standards of which he points at poverty and abuse that children face both at home and at school as the main contributing factors of drop-outs in his area. “Poverty has driven many children out of school. They prefer to fetch for themselves than stay in school hungry and without the necessities. As for the girls, they opt for marriage or sometimes they are married off by parents so that the husband provides both for her and her family. This is violence against children. When the girls are being married off, they are being neglected of their right to education. So as a chief and a leader, I listen and learn from mother groups and village administrators about different abuses happening in my area and I follow up,” Khonsolo lamented.
Khonsolo also said that long distances to school entertains more defilement cases especially for the girls and has therefore asked for the progress of the hostel construction project which is being implemented by ActionAid with the help of UNICEF. “Many cases that we receive on defilement or elopement happen while a girl was on her way to or back from school. This is because gangs take advantage of the distance between the school and villages as it is quite as the grave. On this note, let me take advantage of this opportunity to advise learners to always move in groups because it is difficult to attack a group than one person, so prevention must start within us. Again, I would love if the construction of hostels was finalized because it is not always that our children find a chance to move in groups. So having them stay on the school premises will permanently solve this, and again because they will be under close supervision by teachers and rules, some issues like early marriages and pregnancies will also be avoided,” added Khonsolo.
Meanwhile, the chief has therefore set by laws regarding abuses and has urged parents to be responsible for their children and encourage them to go to school. “This is why I decided to introduce bylaws to help curb violence in my area. For example, if any parent marries off a girl who is less than 18 years old or allows her to get married at her own will, the parents pay two goats and later reported to the police who also charge accordingly. This is because that girl is regarded as “a child” who cannot make decisions on her own hence the guardian is responsible for her actions. I therefore urge parents that we should work together on this. Let us encourage our children especially our girls to go to school because I have noticed that education standards in my area are very poor,” said the leader.
Concurring with Khonsolo, Kondwani Viano who is a Child Protection Worker (CPW) from the same area affirmed to it and added that Kabena zone which includes 8 schools has so far registered a 3% drop out since January this year. This is an indication that the rate is rampant as it is only for a few primary schools. Viano said as a CPW, he works with child rights clubs and the child protection committee where awareness campaign and activities are promoted.
Wongani Mugaba who is the Program Coordinator for ActionAid in Mzimba district expressed gratitude over the result of the project. Apart from bringing back girls who were married before, it has managed to sensitize children on what violence is and their role when such happens. He has therefore assured the community sustainability of the project saying that children will still be protected from violence even when the project phases out next year through institutions they are working with like; mother groups, community police and the judiciary. Martha Saka who also got married in form one but came back to school after the husband died has expressed gratitude over the perfect choice she made three years ago of going back to school. Saka who is now in form three with one child, has said that it is now that she is realizing the importance of school.
“At first I was going to school because I thought that’s what every other kid does before he or she finds a marriage partner. I thought it was just a stage where people that are not yet married wait. Now, I have a dream. I want to finish school, go to college and be independent,” Saka said while grinning.
Meanwhile, Banda and Saka together have formed a club called Tilimbikiskane Club with 15 members. They encourage each other and young mothers to go back to school. The two would love to see a world where nothing limits a girl child’s education or dreams.