“The child within” – watch video from CAMFED here
A recent Human Rights Watch report “I’ve Never Experienced Happiness’: Child Marriage in Malawi” revealed the scale of child marriage and early pregnancies in Malawi and the effect it has had on the education of girls. Like many developing countries, Malawi has had a poor record of keeping children in school and has one of the world’s highest rates of under age marriage – a curse that entrenches cycles of poverty, inequality and ill health. Statistics show that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth.
According to the 2012 UN gender inequality index, Malawi ranks 124 out of 148 countries. Inequality is most evident in rural areas where female-headed households are more likely than male-headed households to be poor and less educated (IFPRI, 2011). This can be explained in part due to the specific impediments women face in accessing vital productive resources and education, as well as cultural practices that are a barrier to women’s empowerment. Girls in Malawi continue to face a myriad of interrelated challenges in attaining quality education ranging from social, economic, protective and health. It is recognized that the many negative educational outcomes for girls are a result of complex contextual factors such as poverty, cultural practices and gender inequalities; attitudes and behaviors of boys and men, parents, teachers and other community members; as well negative attitudes and behaviors by the girls themselves.
GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS
There is compelling evidence to show that girls are not safe from sexual abuse at school. In late 2014, the Malawi Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, will release a nationally representative quantitative survey on Violence Against Children which has found that more than one in five girls experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 and half of these before the age of 13; a third of all 13-17 year olds who had experienced sexual abuse reported that the abuser was a class or school mate; and, between 10-20% of all sexual abuse incidents reported occurred at school. Furthermore, the NSO 2012 Gender Based Violence baseline survey reported higher figures finding that 26% of rape and defilement cases were reported to have taken place in schools as were 23% of cases of unwanted sexual touching, and 17% of cases of unpleasant remarks and sexual harassment (NSO 2012). The 2012 KGIS Baseline Survey also found that girls frequently did not attend school due to a lack of school sanitation facilities.
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS FOR GIRLS
Around 50% percent of all girls are married by age 18 in Malawi and 25% of all adolescent girls already have a child (UN Foundation, 2012). Despite general approval and knowledge and use rate (42%) about family planning, the total fertility rate (TFR) for Malawi remains high, especially in the rural areas where it is reported at 6.1 (National Statistics Office and ICF Macro, 2011). Most sexually active adolescent girls in Malawi do not use any form of contraception, especially Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS) which could positively impact on the country’s total fertility rate and provide sexually active adolescent girls a chance to prevent unwanted pregnancies and remain in school. Furthermore, according 8 Education Management Statistics System: Education statistics , 2013 bulletin 9 EMIS 2012 report 13 to the MDHS (2010), girls are four times at risk of being infected with HIV compared to boys. Most of these women contract the virus when they are adolescents. Adolescent girls remain vulnerable to HIV due to many factors, some biological in nature others cultural and social, such as early marriages and sexual debut. This is further compounded by the existence of various sexual abuses, as well as transactional multiple concurrent partnerships in search of resources to meet their basic needs. In addition, although more women are now reported to have comprehensive knowledge on HIV, fewer than ever before reported to have used a condom at the last high risk sexual encounter study (MDHS 2010).
RETENTION OF GIRLS IN SCHOOLS
Data from the NSO (2012) revealed that 58% of girls drop out of school and out of those remaining in school, 18% became pregnant and 8% married (NSO 2012). The failure to retain girls in schools in Malawi is largely attributed to harmful cultural practices, lack of age- appropriate reproductive health information and knowledge, self- efficacy and utilization of services which, if made available, could assist in reduction of drop out through pregnancy prevention as well as reduction in HIV/STI transmission. In addition, there is still growing tendencies to educate boys rather than girls. In most rural households in Malawi, parents are smallholder farmers and income is limited10. The direct costs of education (i.e. uniform, books, and registration fees) means that parents can rarely afford to educate all their children and paying for a son’s education rather than a daughters’ is seen as a better investment since girls are expected to work at home and to join their husbands’ families at marriage. Secondly, a lack of reproductive health information, comprehensive knowledge, skills and services results in girls not able to exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights and they therefore become more susceptible to early sexual debut, early marriage and pregnancy. Sentinel monitoring conducted by UNICEF recently observed that students’ attendance at primary school was largely sacrificed during the economic crisis, particularly during the first quarter of the year when they are mobilized for agricultural cultivation