Lets not forget teenage mothers in COVID crisis

Lets not forget teenage mothers in COVID crisis

Date: May 10, 2020
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By Rose Milanzi,

Lilongwe 15 May:  While various sectors of the Malawian society has been affected by the novel coronavirus, single and teen mothers are also suffering in the country silently, without anyone noticing them.

17-year-old Ethel Banda (not her real name) fell pregnant at the age of 16 in 2019. Following the pregnancy, Ethel dropped out of school whilst she was in standard 6.

With a year old child strapped on her back Ethel said, “I thought getting married would solve my problems as I live with my grandmother’s younger sister who finds it hard to make ends meet.”

But little did she know that the man she was dating would only impregnate her and leave. She was left alone to take care of her little child.

“With the corona virus pandemic I can’t even afford to buy basic needs, and have to beg from neighbours for money to make ends meet,” Ethel said.

Even though before Covid-19 she had to do different odd jobs to support her child with the pandemic she can no longer do these side jobs for people who usually hire her.

COVID 19 has also stood in her way of achieving her dreams as schools have closed in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.  “This year I wanted to go back to school, but due to the virus I am hoping by September the Novel corona virus will be history, for I want to become a nurse when I finish school.”

Although child marriages in Banda’s district of Nkhotakota exists it does not compare to other districts. Measures have been put in place to stop the harmful traditional practice.

Girls who dropped out of school due to early and unintended pregnancies or early marriages when they come back from their marriages are asked by their block leaders to join in youth groups where they are helped in decision making. Girls are also encouraged to go back to school.

In the youth groups girls are taught how to take care of themselves how to be independent and mentorship on how to get back into school.

According to the block leader of the area, young girls who have become teenage mothers are affected by the pandemic for they cannot afford the protective gear to protect them against this virus

“Despite the fact that the rate of teen mothers in my area is not high, the mothers are having problems to get masks and access protective gear.” The block leader John Chaza highlighted

Though the government has put in place a measure of giving out cash to each household of K35,000 a month, the initiative has not started yet and teen mothers are still finding it hard for them to feed.

Founder of Girls Without Borders feminist organisation Cynthia Chimaliro, says that most girls who became teen mothers are having difficulties during this period.

She elaborates that even in her line of work she have seen how the young mothers are struggling with food as well as accessing protective gears.

The demand for masks and hand sanitizer is high, the price of these rose unexpectedly.

Instead of establishing a price that is within the range for everyone to afford, the price is higher that what everyone can afford.

Through her organization, Chimaliro seeks to help those that cannot afford the protective gear. “My organisation has put in place some measures of reaching out mainly to the teen mothers with masks and handsanitizer in my area.”

In her organisation Cjhimaliro has different cases of teen mothers and some under 18 are forced girls who have been forced into marriages.

One of the girls under Chimaliro’s wing is 15, whom her mother abandoned and joined prostitution, it took Cynthia and her organisation to look after her and her siblings.

“I found it sickening that some mothers decide to leave their children whilst others are looking for children. In this pandemic these girls cannot manage to feed themselves so how can they even get things to protect their health.” she asserts.

With her organisation,  Chimaliro seeks to help girls to get back to school after the pandemic has subsided as well as mentor  teen mothers in better and informed decision-making.

As families face increased economic strain which will last post COVID 19,  girls  may be kept out of school as they are forced into income-generating activities to support their families which will mean they forego educational activities. They may also be victim to child marriages families may marry off their children as their sink more into dire poverty.

In Malawi, minimum legal age of consent to marriage for women and men is 18 years, however there are cases of child marriages and harmful norms that continue to arise  in the country despite efforts to end the harmful cultural practise.

Rose Milanzi is a journalist from Malawi. This story is part of the GL New Service, Gender and COVID-19 news series.


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