An unlooked-for effect of Covid-19

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.The work of Radio Lilanguka, in Partnership with Operation Mobiisation. is supported by SIM Malawi project #MW96852 Yao Ministry Outreach

A rise in unplanned teen pregnancies is an unlooked-for consequence of Covid-19 in Malawi. Paul Kraenzler, Station Director of Radio Lilanguka in Mangochi, talks about this problem and what his station is looking to do to help alleviate it

At least here in Malawi the Corona season seems to be over. There are no new cases reported and life is getting back to normal. However, the long ‘holiday’ left its own mark. The issue of early pregnancies has come into focus. With the schools closed, the number of teen pregnancies has risen after a couple of years where numbers have decreased.

Aisha* is just 15 years old. But she has quite a story to tell. Her mother has raised her and her our younger siblings with great difficulty. All five children have different fathers. None of the fathers lives with their mother or contributes to the costs of living for them. The struggle for daily bread is hard.

Without school: One of the few ‘job opportunities’ for women is to walk around town trying to sell fruit or vegetables

One day Aisha has an idea. Without her, her mother would have one person less to worry about and get food. But where could she go? When she was 12 years old, she was sent to the ‘bush school’, a several-week camp in a secluded place where girls are taught about culture, proper behaviour as a wife, and sex education. Aisha has had her monthly period for nearly two years now and knows therefore, that she could be married.

Without informing her mother about her thoughts she spreads the message that she is ready to become the wife of a man who will feed her. Before long, she gets a message that Mr Yobo from the neighbouring village is interested. She goes to visit him and he promises to feed her well if she helps with the chores around the house.

He owns a fishing business at the lake, so he can afford a third wife. Aisha is convinced that she will have a better life there at Mr Yobo’s place and it will also help her mother. A few days later Aisha takes her blanket and the few clothes she owns and leaves home while her mother is at the river for washing. She moves into one of Mr Yobo’s huts. She gets to know the other two wives of Mr Yobo who welcome her because, as the youngest, she will do most of the hard work.

Aisha’s mother starts to get worried after a few days of Aisha not coming home. Sometimes Aisha would sleep at a friend’s house or visit relatives. But usually she would say good-bye to her mother before leaving. This time there is no message about her whereabouts. She starts asking people if they have seen Aisha. She asks the village chief. Only two or three days later somebody tells her the truth: ‘Your daughter is married with Yobo, the fisherman.’

Why, my daughter? What did I do to scare you away? She can’t understand what has happened, but she doesn’t waste any time and goes to the neighbouring village to Mr Yobo’s house. She finds Aisha washing the clothes. ‘What has happened? Why did you run away without telling me? And how can you marry without the family discussing it?’

Aisha explains that she felt bad because she has been a burden to her mother, and that this will make life easier for both of them. But Aisha’s mother is not convinced and does not agree. She goes to the village chief and asks him to summon Mr Yobo about this ‘marriage’. She knows from radio broadcasts that it is illegal to marry minors and also a bad example in the culture to marry without the consent of the family of the girl. Finally the chief rules that the marriage was not properly arranged and that Aisha is free to go home with her mother.

Station Manager: Article author Paul Kraenzler

Only about 25 out of 100 girls finish primary school (not counting those who never start). The main reasons are poverty, little interest of parents to educate girls and early pregnancies, as happened in the case of Aisha. After half a year at home she made a second attempt to become married. And this time she became pregnant. That’s the perspective of many girls about their life: being married and having children.

Pray that we can produce good programmes that tackle this problem and encourage girls to understand that there is more in life than getting married at 15 or 16. That girls should be proud of themselves and resist attempts from men or their own family to be married before they finish school. That they should understand their value in God’s eyes and develop the potential that God has put in them.

* Names have been changed for security

On the Air Broadcasting to the people in and around Mangochi