Written by: Lusayo Banda, Knowledge Management Officer, Breakthrough ACTION
Soon after she got pregnant, Esnart Kazembe, only 17 years old, dropped out of school. Esnart’s story is far from rare in Malawi where 42% of girls are married by the time they are 18 and 9% married before they are 15.
Esnart’s story started out as a fairy tale. She was in Form Three—which is equivalent to the third year of high school in the U.S.—when she met a truck driver. He was very supportive and provided all her school needs without asking for anything in return. Eventually, the truck driver—who was twice Esnart’s age—confessed he was in love with her.
Blinded by his affection, Esnart fell for him. And because he had already done so much for her, she felt obliged to return the favor.
“We were so happy, and I never lacked anything. I used to spend most of my time with this man and ended up losing focus on my studies. Before I knew it, I was pregnant,” confessed Esnart.
Esnart’s pregnancy was unwelcome news to her parents. However, there was not much they could do as Esnart was adamant about getting married to the man she thought was the love of her life.
A few months into the marriage, cracks started to emerge. Esnart would go to bed on an empty stomach. A caring act of asking about her husband’s whereabouts was rewarded with a slap. Cherished loving memories with her “Romeo” became history. Life became even more unbearable for Esnart and her baby when her husband took a second wife.
The situation seemed hopeless until she attended a meeting organized by a Community Action Group established with Breakthrough ACTION’s help to encourage young women and girls—married or not—to go back to school.
During the meeting, Esnart experienced a moment of clarity about her future. “It hit me so hard that I had ruined my future all for nothing. That was when I gathered the courage to ask for help.” She took her chances and told her story to one of the Community Action Group members who promised to intervene.
With the support and guidance of the Community Action Group, Esnart ended her marriage early in 2022, returned to her parent’s house, and re-enrolled in Malundani Community Day Secondary School.
Juggling school and motherhood has been hard, but Esnart is determined to complete her studies. Her dream is to become a secondary school teacher one day.
Since 2021, the Community Action Group has rescued 28 girls like Esnart from early marriages. Twenty-four of those girls have since re-enrolled in school.
According to Symon Mkwezalamba, secretary of the Community Action Group that helped Esnart, the group has been reaching out to girls in the community who have been forced into early marriages. The group has also been working with traditional and religious leaders to encourage people to abandon some of the cultural practices that contribute to school dropouts among girls.
Mkwezalamba is optimistic about ending child marriage in Malawi. “There is still a bit of resistance from some community members but [I] am sure with the right approach, we can win this fight.”