By Duncan Mlanjira
Young men and women whose home of origin is Chileka in Blantyre, who are spread out across the country, have mobilized themselves and registered Blantyre West Conservation Club, which shall also target at addressing and stopping the rampant social ill of early child marriages.
Kenneth Tausi, speaking on behalf of the group whose leader is Maxwell Sweet, said they have a WhatsApp group on which they share ideas on how they can improve their social lives and the idea of forming the club was mooted.
“The original target was to address the conservation of the environment which is affecting climate change and Chileka is greatly affected from the rampant cutting of trees without replacing them.
“So it was suggested that we should form this club which should be inspiring the communities the need to replace any tree that is being cut down.
“We also discussed the serious issue of early marriages that is rampant in Chileka and we resolved that as we carry out the environmental conservation campaign, we should also be carrying messages discouraging early marriages.
“This practice of early marriages is being allowed in many parts of the country and Chileka was not spared. So we said, let’s stop this malpractice by ending such marriages so that the affected girls should go back to school.”
Tausi takes cognizance that early marriages take place because most girls drop out of school due to poverty and he says their group is trying to set up some strategies on how they can empower the communities to indulge in business ventures to sustain the girl child in her academic pursuit.
He said they have plans to make themselves be more visible so that they can be approaching potential donors in order to sustain girl children that may be dropping out of school for failing to meet some academic needs.
Meanwhile, Blantyre West Conservation Club made itself visible a fortnight ago when they went to plant trees in Chilangoma area in Chileka that was graced by Traditional Authority Kuntaja.
“T/A Kuntaja came because he said he was proud that his young men and women have decided to join hands in making Chileka a better place.
“We were so honoured that he made sure he was present without delegating, which he could have done.
“We only went to inform him of our presence for the tree planting exercise as a courtesy call and we were pleasantly surprised with his presence and he also planted a tree,” Tausi said.
Early child marriages is also rampant in Mulanje and Plan International Malawi has set up strong campaign strategies to put a stop to the malpractice using traditional leaders, community volunteers and Timveni community radio.
The communities have set up interactive groups under the banner 18+ Clubs, which comprises, traditional leaders, exemplary mothers (named Amayi a Chitsanzo) and male champions to act as negotiators to impress on the parents to keep their kids in schools rather than letting them get married early.
During a media visit to her area, Group Village Headwoman Kukada said they are imposing serious fines on parents and other chiefs who will be allowing their children into early marriages and these fines are pooled together and being used to fund the girl child’s academic needs.
Kukada said early child marriages are usually encouraged by some traditional leaders because they receive gifts from the parents and the suitors to bless their marriages but now every time there is such occurrence the traditional leaders are also heavily fined.
Kukada said she was also not spared as she had also been fined when a child marriage happened in her area even though she hadn’t taken part in the process.
And the girls that get pregnant are counseled and after they have delivered, they are sent back to school.
The system was put in place since 2016 and received strong resistance and hostility but Kukada said she stood her ground with the support of T/A Mkanda, T/A Juma, Plan International Malawi, the village chiefs’ wives and the community volunteers.
The volunteers said since 2017, they stopped 299 child marriages while 117 girls who fell prey to teen pregnancies were sent back to school six months after delivery.
In total the intervention were on over 815 girls and boys. The boys were dropping out of school through peer pressure, lack of fees and disinterest from parents among others.
The community volunteers managed to source a sewing machine which they are learning how to sew school uniforms for sale and the funds are put into their bank account to be used to buy academic needs for the learners they have sent back to school.
One of the exemplary mothers, Jessie Maganga said they first faced strong resistance from the mothers of the girls because letting their kids into marriages was like taking off a huge burden of raising them.
“Poverty also was playing a huge role but we managed to slowly impress on them when we assisted with some of the kids’ basic academic needs,” she had said.
“Some were threatening us but with the help of the Male Champions, we managed to convince them that it is not only important for the future of their kids but also that it is illegal to allow an under-age child to get married.
“Thanks to our Group Kukada for standing firm and to Plan International Malawi for the support that helped us not to get discouraged,” she said.
The community volunteers’ chairperson Joseph Nakali confirmed that early child marriages have drastically been reduced but the fight is ongoing and asked for donors to assist them with how they can be generating more funds to keep the fire burning.
He said they need to be empowered with entrepreneurship skills so that they can establish a nursery school where kids of the learners can be looked after when their mothers are in school.
“On top of this programme we also meet twice a week with Group Kukada and other traditional leaders where we discuss and try to solve some of the ills affecting our communities,” he said.
T/A Mkanda’s and T/A Juma’s area have nine primary schools and five secondary schools.