Government’s announcement of the sudden closure of schools across Malawi on 23 March 2020 to push back the Coronavirus pandemic, left children idling at home for six months.
The decision left far reaching consequences as about 13,000 girls got pregnant and 40,000 married before their 18th birthdays during the emergency school closure according to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare.
Raphael Chikadza, a standard seven learner at Kanyindula primary school in Mchinji is one of those who fell prey to the COVID-19 induced break as during the period, he fell in love with a certain girl and they were romantically involved and she became pregnant.
After this, the girls’ parents discussed and agreed that they’d rather the two be staying together as a married couple at the age of 15.
During that time, he discovered he was missing out on a lot of things as he was failing to grasp even the most basic of things prompting him to go back to school.
Once bitten twice shy, the seventeen-year old who learned things the hard way, is determined to finish his studies and realize his aspirations.
He appeals to well-wishers to help him with school fees for his studies as his parents are too poor to afford to pay for his education.
“For one who is going to school, you’re are well enlightened but if you stay home, you’re likely to be influenced by peer pressure and end up drinking, smoking and sometimes getting married before the right time”
Chikhadza confessed it was not easy to make budgets and sustain provisions for his home the time he was married.
He advised his fellow youths to put their energies in education and for those who got pregnant; he indicated through the re-admission policy, they can get back to school.
The boy’s parents supported the idea of going back to school.
Mchinji district social welfare officer Joyce Malika admitted cases of child marriages currently at 31 percent from 2019 to 2022, are on the increase.
She cited poverty peer pressure as some of the driving factors behind the practice.
Some of the structure’s used to ending the vice are child protection committees, mother groups and community based organizations.
Malika pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic period provided a fertile ground for child marriages and early pregnancies.
“As you know, during the COVID-19 season, they were not going to school; so COVID-19 contributed much on the increase of these cases here in Mchinji. My advice to girls here in Mchinji is for them to work very hard in class, to put trust in God everything is possible with God”.