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Jane’s Digital Diary: Malawian girls’ rights on the line

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©2007/Kachitenji
Jane Kachitenji, 20, at home in Lilongwe, Malawi.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 31 July 2007 – Jane Kachitenji is passionate about girls’ rights – to education, safety and the same opportunities as boys. She’s an active participant in the Kaufulu Girls Foundation, a girls’ club in her home community of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.

Just recently, she started recording interviews with young people working for girls’ and youth rights, as part of the Digital Diaries project of Voices of Youth (UNICEF’s online community for young people) and UNICEF Radio.

Jane, 20, received radio equipment and skills training at UNICEF’s New York headquarters in March, when she attended the 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

In her first Digital Diary, she speaks with a girl who was forced into early marriage and contracted HIV from her husband. She also talks to the president of her girls’ club, an HIV peer counsellor and a police officer specializing in child protection, with a focus on girls’ safety.

Risks of early marriage

“It was early in the morning when I was busy getting ready to go to school,” says Chisomo, the girl Jane interviews about early marriage. She remembers her father coming to her door that morning and telling her she couldn’t go to school “because you can’t contribute anything to the world, and I think you should get married.”

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© UNICEF/2007/Markisz
Jane was among a group of exemplary young women who attended the 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2007.

Chisomo continues: “And after a week I got married to a man. I didn’t know his status. After a few years, I had a baby girl, and two years later I was diagnosed with HIV, and so was my baby. If I had a chance to go back to school, I would work on that chance with both hands.”

The story has an all too familiar ring, Jane notes, as girls in Malawian villages and around the globe are subjected to early marriage, which can lead to many health risks for them. She congratulates Chisomo, who is an active member of the girls’ club in her village, on trying against all odds to create a better situation for herself.

Alternatives for girls and boys

Jane’s interview with Patricia, president of the Kaufulu Girls Foundation, shows how the club supports girls like Chisomo. “The aims are the club are to encourage girls to have basic information about HIV and AIDS, to involve girls in activities around development and to give girls vocational skills,” Patricia explains.

On a related note, peer counsellor Hosen Kadzabwanji tells Jane that his job is to give girls and boys alternatives to child labour and prostitution. “We try to get the children to focus on their education,” he says.

“How do the youth respond to your teachings?” Jane asks.

“We have seen evidence of a decrease in the number of child prostitutes, according to 2006 statistics. They are now flocking to schools,” he replies.

Training in child protection

When Jane talks to the Child Protection Officer at the Lilongwe Police Station, Malango Mwasinga, he describes an innovative approach to police work.

“It all started with UNICEF,” he says. “UNICEF contracted police officers countrywide to work on child protection specifically. We got trained for two weeks. We receive cases like rape cases, child desertion and family desertion.”

“What have you done to let communities know about your services?” Jane asks.

“We sensitize communities about child protection issues, about the effects of child abuse and so forth,” he says. “Plans are under way to reach all the communities in the country by the end of the year.”

Jane’s enthusiastic determination to understand her world – and to keep listeners informed about the issues affecting girls in Malawi – is palpable in her recordings. In the coming months, she plans to talk to more young people about their lives and to tell UNICEF Radio listeners about her goals for the future.


 

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Audio
30 July 2006:
Voices of Youth and UNICEF Radio Digital Diarist Jane Kachitenji, 20, reports from the front lines of girls’ rights in Lilongwe, Malawi.

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