Raising awareness on early marriage in a Malawi village

Publié: 11 juillet 2016 7:30 CET

By: Lene Vendelbo, Danish Red Cross

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.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and parents are often pressured to accept that their daughter marries early, just so they do not have to feed her anymore. .

In the school year 2012-2013, the headmaster at St. Michaels Community Day Secondary school watched helplessly as 18 girls dropped out due to pregnancy and/or marriage.

“We had to do something,” recalls headmaster Geoffrey Mpacha. He was not alone with his concern. The Malawi Red Cross Society was also frustrated, given that 4 of the 18 girls were receiving their education through private sponsorships with the Danish Red Cross.

Messages painted on stones

The first steps to create the campaign were taken with meetings where the Malawi Red Cross Society, the local child protection department, and a selection of female students were represented.

“We asked the girls to come up with issues afterwards. We also asked them to prioritize these issues,” said headmaster Mpacha.

The girls identified nine issues. Many of them focused on education and marriage, but harmful cultural practices, like initiation ceremonies, were also addressed.

Afterwards the messages were painted on stones outside the school.

“The stones are a local resource so it seemed obvious that we use them,” says Francis Lyati, deputy programme officer, Malawi Red Cross Society. The headmaster and the other teachers started using them as a part of their teaching. “The messages helped us teach easily about the issues,” affirms Mpacha.
But neither the headmaster nor the Red Cross thought it was enough. “We had to get a dialogue with both the policy makers and the local leaders so they could not put the messages under the mat,” says Taonga Nyekanyeka, humanitarian diplomacy adviser, Malawi Red Cross Society.

A community commitment

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 arranged and facilitated by the Malawi Red Cross Society.  

“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,” the headmaster says.

By the following school year, there had been a dramatic change at the school. Only four girls became pregnant and dropped out.