In Pictures - Raising awareness on early marriage

Over the course of one school year, 18 female students at St Michaels Community Day Secondary School in Malawi dropped out because of pregnancy or marriage. To decrease that number, the Red Cross, the headmaster, and the local child protection department decided on a campaign to raise awareness on child marriage and teenage pregnancy. 

The project involved asking nine female students to share messages on subject matter they felt important. Topics ranged from early marriage and pregnancies, to traditional practices like initiation ceremonies.

These messages were then painted on large rocks outside the school.


Stone 1

Message: When you educate a girl, you educate a whole village

Target audience: Parents and the community

Sub-message: “Women are the owners of the village. When men are married they leave the village, women stay and take care of the children and the community.” 


Stone 2

Message: Poverty should not be a reason to force me into early marriage

Target audience: Parents and the general community

Sub-message: “Parents can be so poor that they have trouble feeding their daughter. And if she is 16 years old, marrying her off can be a relief.”


Stone 3

Message: You are my father, do not force me to sleep with you

Target audience: Parents and the community

Sub-message: “The term 'fathers' also includes stepfathers and sugar daddies. It is a very common problem that girls have sex with older men in return for food or other necessities.”


Stone 4

Message: Do not force me into marriage, I am still young

Target audience: Parents and the community

Sub-message: “Parents might force a girl into marriage, in return for money or food.” 


Stone 5

Message: Police and other stakeholders (e.g. headmaster), protect us from forms of abuse

Target audience: Police and other stakeholders

Sub-message: “Abuse, like rape, is often not reported. The girls are not always aware that it is a crime. Another challenge in rural areas is the distance to the police station.”


Stone 6

Message: Do not violate my rights to education because I am a girl child

Target audience: Parents

Sub-message: “The boy is always preferred, if the parents do not have enough money to keep both son and daughter in school. The perception is that education in many ways is wasted on a girl because she is going to get married anyway."


Stone 7

Message: I want to be educated so that I can be independent in the future

Target audience: Parents and the community

Sub-message: “Something has changed. The government also says if you educate a girl, you educate a nation. So this is a plea to help fulfill this dream."


Stone 8 

Message: Do not force me to get married before time

Target audience: Parents

Sub-message:  “This calls for more power to the individual – that she gets the chance to wait and choose her husband herself.” 


Stone 9

Message: Traditional leaders, abolish harmful, cultural practices that affect the life of a girl child

Target audience: Parents and traditional leaders

Sub-message: “This covers various practices - If a woman dies, the husband is offered the younger sister as a replacement. Or initiation ceremonies where a sexually experienced old man has sex with all the girls from the village who recently started menstruating.” 


The Danish Red Cross supports a number of children at St Michaels Community Day Secondary School in Malawi. We asked them to point out the most important messages on the stones.  

Francis Chuza

Parents beat their children and no one cares. It is just normal here. Someone should protect us.”
Francis Chuza, 15, form 2. Hopes to become a lawyer



“The cultural practices – especially the initiation ceremonies – destroy people. As a boy, you are taught sexual education and abusive songs. Afterwards the boys think: Let me try this and how it works. It seems like it is addictive.”  
Enock Jeae, 17, form 4. Hopes to become a head teacher.



“I helped make the stones. The most important message is that poverty should not be a reason to marry young. I have a friend who got married when she was 13 years. She is 16 years now and has two children. She feels that marrying early is just adding problems.”

Modesta Nsindo, 17, form 2. Hopes to become a police officer.



“Poverty should never be a reason to marry. It is happening to children in our community – actually my best friend married when he was 16 years. He had to drop out of school to support his wife. He is very unhappy.”
Sylvester Chiwaya, 17, form 3. Hopes to become a doctor.


Thokozani Thomas

“It encouraged me to stay in school when I made the stones. The message that I find the most important is ‘Father, do not force me to sleep with you. The father is a stepfather in this context – in my community it is normal that he will demand sex in return for taking care of the stepdaughter."

Thokozani Thomas, 19, form 4. Hopes to become a nurse.  


The school's headmaster and the Malawi Red Cross Society wanted to go further than just having messages painted on stones. A wide range of stakeholders such as social welfare, the police, the district’s education officer and youth officer, a member of parliament, and local leaders were invited to a meeting.



"We took them to the stones and discussed the messages with them. It makes an impression with messages like ‘police protect us from forms of abuse’. The police committed to helping us to reduce the number of such cases.”

Geoffrey Mpacha, Headmaster, St Michael's Community Day Secondary Shool

The year after the project was initiated, there was a dramatic change at the school. Only four girls became pregnant and dropped out, compared to the 18 prior to the project.