Malawi Human Right Resource Centre (MHRRC) has strongly condemned tendencies by churches in Chitipa District to encourage youths to engage in night church activities which it says promotes moral decay in the society.
The condemnation was made Thursday by HMRRC Programme Manager, Emma Kaliya during final review meeting for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) project implemented in Chitipa District, held at Butuzgo Motel, at the Chitipa Boma.
Kaliya singled out night choir festivals, which has become a common and cherished practice among the youths which she said wields great potential to drive the youths into promiscuity which will completely ruin their future .
She then warned that if no intervention will be put in place to scrap off the practice, efforts to fight early marriages, school dropouts, gender based violence (GBV) and HIV and AIDS will be a farfetched dream and communities must be prepared to continue languishing in dire poverty.
Night Choir festival is a favourite activity , especially in rural parts of Chitipa.
Most times, predominantly when the moon shines, as it strikes 6.30 pm Friday, youths, both out of school and school going, start off, on foot, from their church station for a another church congregation, sometimes 70 km apart, for a choir festival that takes them up to Sunday and are back home early hours of Monday, very tied.
MHRRC has been implementing a three year GEWE project in Chitipa District with an objective of promoting the rights of women and a girl child and to economically empower women to refrain from absolute dependency on men as bread winners, a syndrome, to a larger extent, blamed for rampant gender based violence (GBV), through execution of integrated socioeconomic activities.
Kaliya, the country’s renowned gender activist, lamented that practices such as night choir festivals and other nocturnal activities that expose the youths to prostitution and other health hazards , will undermine all the milestones registered under GEWE project.
Said Kaliya: “ All the success stories achieved by GEWE project in promoting the welfare of women and girls will be meaningless because the challenges that the project was launched to address will re-surface if some of the serious push factors to problems impinging on women and a girl child are deliberately given room to flourish.”
During the meeting, members from GEWE network and women groups reported that intensified advocacy to eliminate night choir festivals yielded no results because church ministers and other people wielding influence in the community have been rendering deaf ears to calls to ban the practice.
Kaliya, however observed that besides youths taking advantage of night choir festivals to relieve lust into each other, such activities also provide excellent environment for adults who look innocent during day time, to sexually abuse helpless little girls who can be wooed by slightest favour.
Some faith leaders ganged up with Kaliya in condemning choir and other night activities involving the youths saying it was in sharp contrast with religious doctrines of instilling moral uprightness in the youths.
The Chairperson for Chitipa District Interfaith Association who is also Arch Bishop for Ebenezer Evangelical Assemblies of God Mission in Malawi, Silence Mtambo said it was a big mistake to allow the youths to roam about at night in the name of choir festival.
Bishop Mtambo emphasized that encouraging the youths to freely carry out church activities at night is tantamount to promoting immorality in the society which must be guarded against by all rightful thinking church ministers and elders.
He said night choir festivals are different from night crusades where the youths involved in various activities are under strict surveillance of their parents and church elders who closely monitor and check their movements.
Said Mtambo: “ Night choir festivals must be discouraged at all cost because instead of spreading the word of God through songs, most of the youths use the forums to make merry and love, which is total mockery to God.”
No faith leader who attend the meeting chipped in with a good reason as to why night choir festivals have to be encouraged.
But Kaliya blamed escalation of the practice on traditional leaders who have accepted to see the practice growing in their respective areas without taking action.
“As custodians of cultures and people who shoulder influence over their subjects, why can they not impose a ban on the practice which is threatening with the future of the youths and development in their areas”, queried Kaliya
Senior Chief Kameme and Chief Mwenewenya admitted that night choir festivals are rampant in their areas and quickly blamed the problem on self styled church leaders who do not respect chiefs as they call themselves Holy.
Kameme and Mwenewenya too described festivals as bad ecclesiastic engagement which give the youths ample time to engage in immoral behavior since there is no one to instill discipline in them, especially at night when everyone is asleep.
Said Mwenewenya, “ The fact that choir festivals are done at night, in absence of church ministers, let a lone church elders to monitor youths movements, puts the group at a big risk of plunging itself into prostitution which has far reaching consequences to them as well as the community large.”
Most of the victims of school dropouts, early marriages and unwanted pregnancies which lead to unsafe abortions are youths who take active role in night activities, which is enough proof the activities have more harm than benefits to the youths in the practice.
Chiefs, however, made strong assurance that social and cultural practices such as night choir festivals will no longer be exercised when the just proposed by-laws become effective and operational, remarks Kaliya laughed off, saying it was rare for a bad practice to be given more time to inflict more harm on the people.
Senior Chief Kameme implicated Last Church and Pentecostal Churches as the ones promoting nocturnal church activities in his area while Mwenewenya said all churches in his area have fallen in love with the practice, even CCAP, known for taking tough stand on anything perceived to have an element of immorality.
According to Mwenewenya’s observation, children of church elders and church ministers are not involved in nocturnal church activities, a development he says speaks volume of the negative impact of the activities to the youths.
Since GEWE was launched in Chitipa, three years ago, the welfare of women and dignity has been greatly promoted. Women now have the voice and are able to enjoy their rights and make an alarm when their rights are violated. They freely join village, savings and loan ( VCS) to engage in various small scale businesses to access household basic needs without interference from their husbands.
There is a sharp reduction in gender based violence as empowered community members hastily report to police once it occurs. Defilement which was common has also reduced after police and the courts jailed without lenience all those accused of the crime. Parents are now able to pay fees for their girl children who were previously pushed into early marriages. With an intensified bring back to school campaign, a number of girls have been withdrawn from early and child marriages and re-enrolled in schools, among other project achievements.
Meanwhile, Kaliya, who expressed happiness with successful implementation of the project and its positive impact on the lives of target beneficiaries, hailed members from GEWE networks for devising clear strategies on how to sustain activities after the phase out of the project .
The project which is implemented in Chitipa and Dowa Districts, with funding from UNPF, phases out on 1st May, 2016, with GEWE networks crying for its extension.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :