November 16, Blantyre
Staring a 14-year old Christina Asima from a distance, one could have impression that she is just one of those ordinary girls in the area of senior chief (S/C) Chitera in Chiradzulu. Yet her touching story starts with such a closer look at her, which suddenly engulfs you into emotional sorrow because of her malnourished health.
Her eight-month old baby keeps on crying on her back but she cannot breast-feed her because there is no milk in her breasts. Anyway, she just fishes them out of her dirt and regular blue-blouse for the purposes of entertaining the child.
By the time Christina starts narrating her story; watch out your fragile tear ducts because you may liberate more tears than she does because of grief.
The moment she permits you to see where she calls her house, you are forced to fish out whatever amount of money is in your pocket angive to her. This is apart from the numerous thoughts of how you wished you were a millionaire in order to render a right away support to her.
It does not matter if you have not set a foundation of your own house yet, but emotions will compel you to contribute to the house project of this poor girl because her’s was demolished by heavy rains last season. She currently occupies a borrowed house from one of her relations, which is also in dilapidated state, signalling another disaster this rainy season.
Don’t ask Christina why she does not lock her house because you will be shocked to see for yourself that the door of her house is a complete mess.
“When I go out, I don’t bother to lock my house because it has no security devices. Even if I lock it, I have no valuable items that I fear people can steal from me. I only fear my life and that of my child at night,” says Christina.
Entering Christina’s house, one is awe-stricken whether it is habitat for a human being or animal which does not deserve any Human Right. A worn out green pail and two plates, which were left behind by her mother before she deserted her, sat separately in a dust-ridded floor.
She says she uses the similar bucket for bathing, drawing water and storing drinking water.
You cannot call the other space of her house “bedroom” because there is no such space where a bed can fit. There is even no mat in such a dim room whose sole window is fixed permanently. What is found there are dirt pieces of sack and wrapper, which serve as Christina’s beddings.
“Of course yes, those are our beddings together with my son. I cannot afford a proper mat and blanket,” says Christina, pointing at the dirty sack and wrapper.
She says she bought the wrapper using the money she accumulated after doing a piece work in her village.
But how did she found herself in such risk situation?
“It all started when the marriage of my mother and father broke around 2011. My father left for Mangochi, leaving behind my mother and five children behind (including me). As time passed, my mother found another man who expressed interest to a marry her. But unfortunately the man did not want to look after us (children). Therefore, my mother just eloped with him to Blantyre, leaving us (children) behind. Since then I automatically became a bread winner for the family,” she says.
Child abuse is more than rape, bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. So, did Christian together with her younger siblings, experienced emotional agony as they were deserted by their parents in the village called Saenda in Chitera.
Although she has only attained a teenager two years ago, Christina does the work of an adult. She does piece works such as watering mud for moulding bricks and clear maize fields in her area in order to earn a living. She acknowledges that she was exposed to child labour, premarital sex, among other perils. This resulted her into falling pregnant and drop out of school.
“In the process, I met a man who promised to marry and help me taking care of my siblings. But soon after he impregnated me he refused the responsibility and disappeared. I was forced to drop out of school in standard eight,” she recalls.
She says her condition compelled her to seek help from the police and social welfare office which helped to trace her mother in Blantyre. When the whereabouts of the mother was detected, she accepted to take the custody of the other three children whom Christina managed to escort to Blantyre where the mother had settled. But she was forced to return to the village where she kept on staying independently.
Christina gave birth to a bouncing baby boy in January this year at Chiradzulu district hospital through a caesarean section. And since then she has been fending for her child singlehandedly.
“It has been a chaotic journey for me to be where I am today with my child. Only God knows how I have managed to reach this far without proper nappies, clothes, food and shelter. There was time I would feel bad but God whispered to me hold on till this day. I thank Him for being faithful throughout my life,” says Christina.
In his article ‘Thousands of Malawian teenage girls die whilst giving birth’ which appeared on http://www.streetnewsservice.org, Henry Kijimwana Mhango writes that “teenage pregnancies are on the rise in Malawi as dire poverty drives young girls into both prostitution and problematic relationships with older men.”
The article further quotes Dr. Isabera Msisi, the former president of the Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Malawi as saying: "Every two hours in Malawi we are losing a woman in relation to maternal cause and the very unfortunate thing is that teenage girls are taking the lead. Because their bodies are not fully developed to give birth, many die of severe bleeding during delivery."
Childbearing among adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa remains high – the adolescent
fertility rate is 108 births per 1000 girls aged 15-19 in the region, compared to 73 in South Asia, and 72 in Latin America and the Caribbean (World Bank, 2010).
Correspondingly, contraceptive use among 15-19 year old girls is low – only 21% of married girls who want to avoid pregnancy, and just 41% of unmarried sexually active girls who want to avoid pregnancy are using a modern contraceptive method (Guttmacher Institute and IPPF, 2010).
According to the most recent Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 60% of females aged 20-24 had sex by the age of 18, and 15% of females 15-19 had had sex in the past year. Of currently sexually active unmarried 15-19 year old girls, only half had ever used a modern method of contraception, and about a third were currently using a modern method, almost exclusively the male condom.
A 14-year old Christian says this year she has clocked three years of independent and traumatic life. But vowed to fight for both her education and that of her son.
“I want to go back to school and fight for the bright future of my child. I want him to bring change in my community,” she says.
Social Welfare Officer for Chitera area Erick Moyenda acknowledged Christiana’s case, adding investigations and necessary steps were taken to connect her (together with other children) with her parents.
“We are aware of Christina’s case and we made all the efforts to connect her with her mother who has since taken the custody of her other three children whom were left with her. But as Social Welfare office we are making ensure to encourage her community to realise its role towards her upbringing. This is the case because the school bursary which our office offers starts at secondary school level,” says Moyenda.
He says that his office has since connected Christina with Girls Empowerment Network (Genet Malawi), a local NGO which seeks to protect the rights and uplift the status and well-being of girls in the country.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel that the lost dreams of the 14-year old Christina and other girls who are heading their families, will be re-possessed following the intervention by Genet Malawi which seeks to empower vulnerable young women.
“There are some young women and girls who are heading families but have no instant plans to go back to school. So, we want to target them with some expertise and capital for them to start small scale businesses so that they become economically independent,” says Mercy Mituka, Coordinator for Genet Malawi.
She says there two types of Village Savings Loan (VSL) which her organisation has introduced in the area of Chitera as one way of fighting the crisis of child marriage and other Human Rights violence faced by girls and young women in the area.