Monday, July 16, 2018

Holding child marriage bull by the horns

In a country littered with a litany of social ills, it is easy to throw important issues such as those pertaining to the ills of child marriage out of priority trays.

More so when issues related to individual countries are thrown into the tray of global records, which often do not resemble the life of simple bliss local policymakers want it to appear like.

ATTENTIVE: Participants
However, Fountain of Hope Organisation, a non-governmental organisation, has decided to pick issues related to Malawi in global statistics. After observing that the battle against child marriage can be lost, it decided to act on findings of researchers who came up with recommendations that, on an ordinary day, may be trashed as too global to spur the action of individual nations.

What spurred Fountain of Hope Organisation into action is a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report released in March 2018 which shows that 25 million child marriages were averted in the last decade.

The report further indicates that, globally, 12 million girls marry each year before they turn 18— a drop from Unicef’s previous estimate of 15 million.

“That report prompted us [Fountain of Hope Organisation] to intensify the fight against child marriages through the ‘Right To Be A Girl Programme’ being implemented in Karonga District. We have based our work on the Unicef report [released in March 2018],” says Fountain of Hope Organisation Executive Director, Shora Kauluka.

However, other than losing hope, Kauluka looks at Unicef’s figures positively.

He says what the report shows is that “ending cases of child marriage is possible”.

“At the same time, we must recognise that change is uneven and we still have work to do because key figures indicate that little has been achieved. For instance, globally, the proportion of women aged between 20 and 24 years, who are married or in union before their 18th birthday, has dropped from 25 percent [one in four people] to 21 percent [one in five people] in the last decade.

“While, on a positive note, cases of 25 million child marriage were averted in the last decade, 12 million girls continue to get married every year, down from Unicef’s previous estimate of 15 million,” he says.

From whatever angle one looks at it, progress is being made, if one takes into consideration the fact, according to Unicef, that 650 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, down from 720 million.

This means there has been a reduction of such cases as 70 million women who, under the old order, should have been married by their 18th birthday are safe from the jaws of marriage.

Danger looms, though.

Researchers, at Unicef and elsewhere, indicate that 150 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday between now and 2030— unless, of course, progress is accelerated.

ACTIVE: Kauluka


“Similarly, in Malawi, progress is needed for acceleration as well,” Kauluka says.
According to Millennium Development Goal Endline Survey 2014, the percentage of people aged between 15 and 49 years who first married or were in a union before the age of 15 is 10.3 for women and 1.5 for men.
In addition, the percentage of people aged between 20 and 49 years who were first married or in a union before the age of 18 years is 49.9 for women and 9.1 for men  where as the percentage  of people aged between 15 and 19 years  who were  married or in a union is at 28.4 for  women and 2.6 for men.                                                                                                                                                                                
The problem has not spared Karonga District, where evidence suggests that there are variations according to hazard types.
Generally, women, children and the elderly are more vulnerable to child marriage than men, according to research conducted in 2013 by Dodman and others.
In regard to exposure and capacity to respond to risks in urban areas, women are, therefore, more vulnerable than men.
As the United Nations Development Programme observed in 2013, even fatalities after disasters tend to be higher for women than men.
This is not shocking in Karonga District, where residents follow the patrilineal system where men take a leading role in controlling the means of production, resources and power.
“This has greatly affected lives of girls in the district, one of the consequences being that they are forced to marry earlier than men. This has greatly contributed to cases of school dropout among girls in areas such as Traditional Authority (T/A) Kilupula, especially in Group Village Head Mwangwera.
“This has been noticed in five schools, four of them are primary schools while one is a community day secondary school , a situation which has devastating impacts on girls’ education, health and development,” Kauluka says.                                   
It is for this reason that Fountain of Hope Organisation, with support from Mundo Cooperante of Spain, introduced a project aimed at reducing, and curbing, cases of child marriage by supporting the enrolment and retention of girls aged less than 16 years old in T/A Kilupula.
The project targets four primary schools— namely Kakoma, Kasisi, Namuzinga and Lutete —and Ngerenge Community Day Secondary School.
These institutions and villages have over 3,500 girls, some of them are married while others are in school. The organisation is working hand in hand with Ukhondo Service Foundation and Kakoma Community-based Organisation.

The project identifies girls who are married before 18 years, girls who are forced into marriage, those who dropped out of school and those who are in school but face various  forms of violence.

The initiative directly targets 3,500 girl children who are capacitated in fighting against the problem of child marriages.

In the month of June, the project trained 10 girls, 10 women, 10 local leaders, five men, five head teachers, five village development committee members, five school committee members as paralegals in support of victims of child marriage, sexual and gender-based violence and human rights abuses by serving as peer educators.
“This targeted all local players who are crucial in the fight against child marriage in the area. The training was facilitated by Karonga District Social Welfare Officer Atupere Mwalweni, Karonga District First Grade Magistrate Radson Gamaliel, Karonga District Child Protection Officer Rhoda Mwakasungura, Kaporo Police Station Assistant Superintendent Robert Chiotcha and  Constable Christopher Lawrence of Kaporo Police Victim support Unit,” he says.
Kilupula says Fountain of Hope Organisation has come at the right time.
“The intervention has come at the right time, considering numerous cases of child marriage we continue to register in our area. Participants should start working on outstanding cases as a starting point to show that their capacity has been strengthened,” Kilupula says.
Mwalweni further advises participants to avoid favouritism when handling issues.
Kauluka says, initially, the plan was to train 10 girls and women only as paralegals but, after noticing the negative situation on the ground, they decided to include all relevant structures so that 10 targeted volunteers can receive support from all angles.
“For instance, community leaders, head teachers and mother groups are key stakeholders in this project,” he says.
Some of the activities in the project include conducting awareness campaigns targeting 25,000 community members on consequences of early marriages, sexual and gender-based violence; advantages of keeping girls in school; providing income generating activities (IGA) to 650 households where girls are enrolled in school, among others.
IGAs include the use of incubator machines for poultry production, machines for manufacturing candles, a set of solar products  for electricity business and start up farm inputs.
Implementers are also ensuring that five mother groups of 10 members each are operating efficiently at each school so that they can monitor affairs of girls and work hand in hand with project staff to protect the rights of girls in school.

Each school will also have a club to strengthen the capacity of girls so that they can protect themselves from perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Boys are not foes, though, and have been incorporated in the initiative. Boys and local leaders have put their hands to the wheel and are committed to making issues of human rights abuse directed at girls a thing of the past.

One day, children borne by the targeted girls will look back at history, learn from it, and tell stories that end with a smile.

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