Malawi is a landlocked country situated in Southern Africa bordering Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. It is well known with its beautiful Lake Malawi also known as Lake of Stars. The country is divided into 3 administrative division (Southern, Central and Northern region. Lilongwe is a capital City. Malawi has agro-based economy and relies on Tobacco as the main export earner. The majority (90%) of the population live in the rural area and are subsistent farmers. Chichewa is a national language while English is an official language.
Every year, thousands of adolescent girls in Malawi are robbed of their childhood, cheated of their right to education, exposed to life threatening health risks and set on a road to a life of servitude and poverty through early and forced marriages. Those marriages lead to early pregnancy since the expectation is for a married woman to be pregnant within a year after marriage. Early sexual debut (within or outside marriage) is a known contributing factor to a lot to problems in adolescent reproductive health. Adolescent girls especially from rural areas suffer from sexually related violence at a younger age and this puts their lives at risk, unfortunately this practices is done and justified as a custom, cultural norm or tradition practice and become part of life for many girls.
Over 50% of girls become pregnant before reaching 18 years. Most rural girls find it challenging to attend antenatal clinic because most health centres environment are not conducive and youth friendly especially for adolescent girls who become pregnant outside the wedlock (unwanted or unplanned pregnancy). Since adolescent girls do not have sufficient information about pregnancies they end up opting for unsafe abortions which may lead to maternal complications and even maternal death. Some prefer to conceal their pregnancy ending up giving birth by themselves leading to multiple maternal complications and even death. HIV/Aids is a big challenge.
Traditionally girls are expected to be less knowledgeable about their sexuality and to have limited control of their body and sexual life, this includes when and who to marry, when to have sex, number of children, whether to use or not use a condom etc. At a community level, girls receive information about their sexuality during initiation ceremonies. That information is not only usually incorrect, it is also carrying messages on womanhood, marriage and the role of women that are patriarchal, sexist and aiming at preparing girls for a life of subordination and servitude. Wife hijacking (kusomphoredwa), wife sale (kupimbira), gift wife (mbirigha) are some of the tradition practices secretly practiced in the area. Girls are also raped or defiled by their grannies and cousins because traditionally a grandfather will call his granddaughter his “wife” and this has given room for perpetrators to sexually violate girls.
There is underrepresentation of girls in schools leading to low education attainment for girls. School dropout is very high among adolescent girls. This is attributed to economic as well as social attitudes that tend to undervalue girls’ education as in most cases marriage is perceived to be the ultimate goal for girls.
Adolescent girls also face a lot of challenges in the area of reproductive rights manifested through high incidences of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS. Incidence of HIV occurs at a younger age in females than males and yet often the girl’s interaction with reproductive health services is impeded due to socio-cultural and economic factors.
Early pregnancy is another big challenge facing adolescent girls. Girls as young as 11-12 years are having babies. Most adolescent girls are not empowered to make sexual decisions about their lives. Access to friendly SRH including contraception is very limited to this group.
Child marriage is huge problem facing adolescent girls here. It is a hidden crisis: This is because the victims are overwhelming young, poor and female. Their voices are hardly ever heard by the society and government.
In our country, we have seen cases where girls as young as 11-13 years getting married. Early marriages jeopardize the education of girls and turns millions of girls into second class citizen locking them and their children into the cycle of poverty.
Generally, Issues of adolescent girls do not appear to be on the priority list on national agendas.
Our laws define a child as persons below 16 years. This is a departure from the international standard and therefore leaves out a large section of girls without protection.
Girls face greater pressure to adhere to traditional practices and customs including early marriages. Adolescent girls are victims of harmful cultural practices, such as kusasafumbi (sexual cleansing), kupimbira (wife pledging/sale), bulangete la mfumu, fisi, Hlazi etc. In all these traditions and practices girls are subjected to sexual violence and abuse.
Media reports are full with incidences of defilement or rape of girls. This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are thousands and thousands of adolescent girls and young girls being raped and defiled and yet they remain silent.
Recently, there was a court case where a 50 years old man defiled 10 years old girl. It is disheartening that the man was acquitted of the case on basis that the girl did not feel pain during the act. So, you can imagine the extent of injustice adolescent girls and young girls face in our country. Child trafficking and child labour.
Adolescent girls and young girls are poorly nourished. In most households they are given leftovers.