According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 700 million women alive today were married as children—that is, under the age of 18. And more than 1 in 3—roughly 250 million—were married before they turned 15. In many cultures worldwide, particularly in countries of South Asia and Africa, local customs allow and even encourage child marriage.
The price of child marriage is high. A growing body of evidence shows that, in comparison to girls who marry after the age of 18, girls who marry younger than 18 are more likley…
- not to finish school
- to experience domestic violence
- to receive inadequate medical care, particularly during pregnancy
- to have more children—but also more children with serious health concerns
- to live in poverty
- to become infected with sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV or HPV.
“This is a thing that worries the future of our young people’s lives,” says Group Village Headman (GVH) Penga, a forward-looking village leader who lives in a place where child marriage is customary: rural Malawi. “In almost every village,” he says, “there are two or more girls who have dropped out of school before completing primary education.”
In October, a team from Lutheran Hour Ministries—Malawi traveled to GVH Penga’s territory to present a youth workshop at the Kachikho village community hall. The presentation, titled “Youth Living a Soft Life,” addressed the misconceptions that children and young adults develop about education, poverty, and growing up.
Joana Malinga, a 13-year-old from a neighboring village who attended the seminar, was wrestling with some of these very issues.
“She was doing well in class tests,” says LHM—Malawi’s Aubrey Bunguzu, “but challenges she faced at home”—challenges that included her parents’ daily struggle to provide for their large family—”forced her to drop out of school.”
But the workshop was an eye-opener for Joana.
“The seminar has changed my mind; I’m going to go back to school,” she told parents, leaders and peers at the workshop’s closing ceremony, “because I have now seen that education has no age limit.” Continuing in school will not be easy for Joana, but Bunguzu says she is determined—and hopeful.
Aubrey Bunguzu is hopeful, too—and looking to the future. “Holding youth gatherings like this will give youth an affordable platform to share ideas for avoiding some of the social, economic and cultural traps that are so easy for our young people to fall into.” Look for more such youth gatherings from the Malawi ministry center.
To learn more about the work of Lutheran Hour Ministries—Malawi, visit lhmmalawi.wordpress.com.