Written by: Lusayo Banda, Knowledge Management Officer, Breakthrough ACTION
At the age of 15, Maness had to bear a burden people far older than her struggle with—parenting a newborn with barely any family support.
When Maness’s parents found out that she was pregnant, they forced her to marry the baby’s father who, like Maness, was only an adolescent himself. Without a source of income, the young couple had to rely on the boy’s parents for food and other necessities.
“It was hard juggling being a wife and an adolescent. I was told that I was now a grown woman. I had to do all the cooking and take care of the house and my in-laws,” says Maness.
Although she longed to return to her parents, Maness did not reach out to them for fear they would reject her.
“I was called all sorts of names, made fun of by my peers, and rejected by my own family when I got pregnant.”
Fortunately, Maness’s story reached Jana, the Group Village Head, and a strong advocate for ending child marriages. Jana shared what was happening to Maness with the Breakthrough ACTION Community Action, which then met with Maness’s parents to talk to them about the dangers of early marriage.
After several meetings, Maness’s parents agreed to let her come home and promised to look after her and the baby. A few months later, the boy’s family moved to another district and they have not heard from him since. Now, Maness relies solely on her parent’s support.
Even with her parents’ help, life is still challenging for Maness.
Maness’s day starts at 5 a.m. As soon as she wakes up, she helps with household chores such as fetching water, washing plates, and sometimes cooking porridge for her siblings when they have maize flour. All these chores must be done before she leaves for school.
While she is at school, Maness’s mother watches her own three-year-old child in addition to Maness’s baby. It is her hope that Maness will focus on her studies and help provide for the family in the future.
Maness is determined to complete her studies; she knows her education will help her contribute to her family’s wellbeing and realize her dream of becoming a nurse.
In addition to her parents’ help, Maness also receives support from Jana, who provides Maness with textbooks, food, and other necessities.
“It is time we take the lead in ending this [child marriage] practice in our communities. Parents should not dictate to their children when to get married. These are just children and are not ready for the burdens that come with marriage,” says Jana.
Together with the Community Action Group, Jana educates community members about the dangers of child marriages. She has also held meetings with teachers, police, mothers’ groups, and other local leaders so they can find ways to end this practice in their community.
By working with community leaders like Jana, Breakthrough ACTION helped to annul 184 child marriages in Malawi from January 2021 to March 2022. Of these, 104 girls, like Maness, have returned to school.