Early marriages choking girls’ education in Rumphi

Early marriages continue to impact negatively on education of girls despite efforts by government and different stakeholders to try to stump it out.

At a meeting organized for traditional leaders on Monday by Rumphi District Council in conjunction with Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), early marriages was an issue the local leaders felt was refusing to die.

The meeting was held at Phoka Primary School in the area of Sub Traditional Authority Kachulu. It aimed at finding ways that could effectively tackle increasing incidences of early marriages among girls in the district.

Adolescent girl leaders advocating for the end of child marriage in Malawi. Photograph: GENET Malawi
Adolescent girl leaders advocating for the end of child marriage in Malawi. Photograph: GENET Malawi

Primary Education Advisor (PEA) responsible for Phoka Zone, Sylvester Nyirenda, told Malawi News Agency (Mana) in an interview that early marriages had reached serious levels in his zone.

“The problem is very serious here. Every year we have been registering increasing dropout rate, especially in senior classes.

“We may enrol 60 learners in standards one to five with more girls than boys, but the figure steadily decreases in the senior classes. For example, we would end up with 21 learners with only three girls writing final primary school examinations,” Nyirenda explained.

“Most of these learners are lost to marriages which are mostly polygamous where a man may marry up to six wives,” he added.

The education advisor said due to increased dropout from school, his zone has suffered a lot in the area of Open Distance Learning (ODL) teacher training programme.

He cited this year (2014) where out of the 20 candidates who have applied for the programme, only three are female candidates.

Earlier, Child Protection Officer in the District Social Welfare Office, Lizzie Mhango, also confirmed that the girls’ school dropout to early marriages had reached serious levels.

She said in the month of June [2014] alone, her office had handled 19 cases of early marriages in which girls at an average age of 14 were withdrawn from marriage.

According to the child protection officer, the worsening problem is fuelled by the parents’ failure to fulfil their responsibilities, increased household poverty and peer pressure among others.

“Parents marry off their daughters because they cannot bear the burden of raising them. As such, when someone has impregnated their child or asked for a hand in marriage, they take it as a convenient option to rid themselves of the responsibility,” said Mhango.

She said the parents would prefer to get dowry than taking parental responsibility of raising their children to the age when they are mature enough.

Commenting on the matter, Sub Traditional Authority Kachulu, said besides poverty, students travel long distances to access secondary school education.

The sub-chief also proposed that by-laws be formulated to oblige parents to send their children to school and ban marriages of the under aged.

During the meeting, it was also observed that parents in the area still consider it a taboo to sensitize their children on matters of reproductive health, as such, they assign this responsibility to aunts or grandparents.

But YONECHO District Manager, Eunice Banda, appealed to parents to be open to their children to prevent them from getting wrong information from other people.

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