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Malawi: Newsline

Life-skills education for girls helps end the cycle of abuse in Malawi

©UNICEF/2007/ Sevenier
Catherine, pictured here with her son, ended a cycle of abuse and returned to school after receiving life-skills education and community encouragment.

By Gaelle Sevenier

LILONGWE, Malawi, 22 February 2008 – At the age of 14, Catherine accidentally became pregnant, so she dropped out of school and married the father. From that moment on, the young mother’s life was filled with emotional and physical abuse. Her husband started beating her on a daily basis and sometimes would not give her any food to eat for two or three days.

A group of mothers from the nearby community of Jombo found out about Catherine's situation. The volunteers, who meet twice a week to encourage girls to return to school, convinced Catherine to do just that.

It was in school, during a UNICEF-supported life-skills education programme, that she learned the violence she was enduring was not acceptable.

Life-skills curriculum

"School is a useful place to communicate about problems," said the Chief of Education for UNICEF Malawi, Simon Mphisa. "Therefore, within school programmes, we have developed a curriculum with simple messages and knowledge about the human body, sexual behaviour, violence or exploitation."

UNICEF-supported life-skills education programmes reach 5,168 schools in Malawi and about 2.5 million primary school children.

"We train teachers on how to deliver the information and how to interact with the children. We are very pleased that the statistics on the number of trained teachers are high in the country," said Mr. Mphisa.

Keeping girls in school

Forty per cent of marriages in Malawi involve children from 15 to 18 years of age. Girls often drop out of school to get married or to go to work. In 2003, an Accelerated Girls’ Education Initiative was launched to look at ways of not only getting girls enrolled in school, but making sure they finish their education.

As part of a special programme, the World Food Programme, in partnership with UNICEF, donates an extra portion of food to girl students each month so that they can bring corn back to their homes.

In approximately 250 Malawian schools, children are given a plate full of nutritious porridge every morning. With the main goal of maintaining girls in schools, the programme also helps to reduce absenteeism and increase enrolment in the targeted schools.

Grateful for a second chance

Catherine is now doing quite well in school, and she dreams of becoming a nurse. Although she is still sometimes the target of stigma from other classmates, she looks at this challenge as an opportunity to educate others.

"I advise other girls not to do what I did," said Catherine. "I made a mistake and now know what this marriage was like. The other girls should not do as I did but should stay in school. Today, I am very grateful I was given a second chance to continue with my education."


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