What seemed to be an initiative to eradicate poverty for a 48 year old Ephrina Msukwa of Mwandambo village in the area of Senior Chief Mwakaboko in the border district of Karonga, has emerged to be a permanent cobweb of poverty that has trapped Msukwa and turned her into a guardian to her 21 year old daughter Rebecca Mtambo (name withheld).
Msukwa entered into an agreement with a prospective Tanzanian employer in 2015 when her daughter was 15 years old and doing standard five at Ngisi primary school and she received an upfront payment of Three thousand Tanzanian Shillings which at the current exchange rate is equivalent to K12, 000.
However, barely two months after Rebecca had left, something went wrong.
The deal suffered a huge blow as Rebecca came back home due to a mental health ailment that has devastated her mother’s dream and ended up rendering the family destitute and turned her into a laughing stock.
But as the popular saying says “Had I known is always at last,” Msukwa is now living a regretful life because at that time, she failed to take heed of pieces of advice from community leaders who vehemently spoke against the idea of trafficking the girl to Tanzania for labour.
“I am now regretting for the mistake I made. I thought I would be getting monthly income from my daughter to sustain my livelihood to transform the family’s socio economic status but now I am a slave in my own world,” Msukwa regretfully recalls.
Had Msukwa taken heed of the community leaders, probably Rebecca would be in secondary school now, probably Msukwa could have farmed enough to sell and construct a decent house.
Probably, by now her wellbeing would be somewhere else.
She narrates: “Life is hard. Her ailment requires my attention. When she is tormented, she can wreck havoc and do anything harmful so, I have to be around in the process, no time for me to do farming or any other business”.
For Msukwa to turn around her self inflicted problems, she says she needs both financial and material help.
Msukwa is of the view that a sound business start up capital can help to bring hope and smiles to her family and ailing daughter.
“All I need is help. Be it capital for business, a decent house or my daughter’s medical attention so that she should recover from her mental health problems,” she says.
That is how a girl child’s education is compromised in hard to reach, hilly and bumpy areas of Ngana and Ngisi which up to now, does not have a secondary school.
This, forces girls to drop out of school and enter into early marriages or trek to Tanzania for labour to avoid walking a distance of about 24 kilomters to the only secondary school in the area, Iponga.
Poverty, coupled with harmful cultural practices such as chithola minga and lobola, parents look at girls as pure gold such that they quickly accept offers that come their way regardless of the girl’s age.
These revelations were made recently at group focus discussion and gender laws training the Evangelical Association of Malawi under its Timazge Khaza project conducted in the area where Karonga First Grade Magistrate Julius Kalambo tackled the Constitution, Gender Equality Act, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Trafficking in Person Act, the Penal Code and People Living with Albinism.
According to Ngisi primary school mother group chairperson Ireen Mbotwa, the trend is deeply rooted as parents become defensive and at times use unpalatable words to anyone standing their way.
“We have been facing threats from parents who marry off their girls for money or traffic them to Tanzania. However, little by little, things are changing for the better. Thanks to Timazge Khaza project that was introduced by the EAM last year,” says Mbotwa.
Mbotwa says with various interventions, community leaders have realised that these harmful cultural practices such as Ipimbira, chithola minga and chihalo are a danger to society due to prevailing cases of HIV AIDS.
“Right now there are by-laws that we use to fine at least K50, 000 everyone who marries off underaged girls or forcebly send them to Tanzania. We have also established a ‘Bring Back to School Campaign’ for all girls who were married off and at least 9 girls are back to school,” she narrates.
To reinforce these by-laws, it took senior group village headman Mwandambo and his fellow traditional leaders time to reflect on the rising cases of early marriages in his area which he said alarmingly rose during the covid 19 school break.
“During the covid 19 school break, the figures were quite scary. It is during that time when EAM engaged community leaders such as mother groups, child protection committee (CPC) members, women groups, community victim support units (CVSU) and youths one the need to fight gender based violence.
“And recently, we were engaged in gender related laws trainings to equip us with skills on how we can report GBV cases to relevant authorities, offences and sentences for various forms of GBV to safeguard the right of a women and girls,” he says.
This was corroborated by Mwandambo child protection worker who said between 2014 and 2021, only four underaged girls were married off while five were trafficked to Tanzania, thanks to the reinforcement of the community by-laws coupled with unwavering support from Timazge Khaza project.
He acknowledges: “EAM’s sentisation and awareness campigns have played a critical role. The lobola price tag of K100, 000 parents used to charge for their underaged girls used to deafen their ears that they could not take any heed from anyone. However, this is slowly dying down as the reinforcement of the by-laws and intensification of community watch dogs is playing a role”.
This development, has gone down the memory lane of EAM and has been documented as a success story.
EAM District project coordinator Dumisani Nungu said as a faith based institution, the focus is to reach out to the underprivileged and impact their lives positively regardless of gender, ethnicity and religion.
“We are glad that people are able to report cases of GBV. We are happy that community by-laws have been formulated to help eradicate harmful cultural practices that work to the disadvantages of girls and women. We will engage an extra gear until we make this place a better place to live,” he says.
Nungu further said that his institution through Social Welfare Office will lobby and fight for the Rebecca to get the much needed psyco social support and rehabilitation from health facilities that offer such type of treatment while pleading with government to give people of Ngana and Ngisi social amenities such a secondary school and road network.
“Some of these GBV cases are fueled by lack of commitment from elected and duty bearers. Let these people be be given a secondary school, let them have a good road network and a tower to enhance communication,” he concludes.
Karonga District Social Welfare Officer Peggy Gondwe has since said her office will come in to help the girl get treatment.
Karonga North Constituency Legislator Mungasulwa Mwambande said his hopes are banked on the 250 secondary schools government plans to construct throughout the country.
Regional education manager (N) Mzondi Moyo said the area can benefit from the Equity with Quality and Learning at Secondary (EQUALS), a project that aims at increasing access to secondary education in remote areas.
“If the Council identifies the area in question then the ministry’s team will go to assess the situation to ascertain a number of factors to see if it qualified for the school otherwise we are committed to improving access of secondary education,” he said.
District director of planning and development David Gondwe said the district’s education plans highlighted the need to have a secondary school in the area to ease the challenges girls face.
He says: “We have plans to take social services including secondary schools closer to people. However, much as we would want to have secondary schools in many sites, the challenge remains financial constraints.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :