Malawi is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Internal trafficking is believed to be more prevalent in the country, with people being subjected to forced labour in agriculture, animal herding, and domestic servitude. Girls and young women are trafficked internally for forced labour and prostitution at local bars and rest houses. Moreover, Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with approximately 1 in 2 girls being married by the age of 18. Child marriage is closely linked to poverty in the country, with girls being married in order to improve a family’s financial status. The government is working to combat child marriage, with the President having signed a constitutional amendment in April 2017 increasing the legal age of marriage to 18 years old.
At the age of 15 Dorothy was forced to marry by her mother who thought it would be a solution to their financial problems. However she was mistaken and Dorothy continued to live in poverty, with little food and was locked in her own house so that her husband could see his ‘girlfriends’. Dorothy came in to contact with a youth group supported by Plan International and was able to divorce her husband. She now helps other young girls escape their forced marriages.
I went to school, but didn’t see the point of continuing. We were poor and my school uniform was in bad state. I was ashamed.
I thought marriage was a great thing – and better for me than education. My mother thought a son in-law would help our family with food and money.
We had no food, and I would go for days without eating. My husband had several girlfriends and mistresses. He used to lock me inside and not let me out until the next day, so that he was free to visit his girlfriends.
My husband was arrogant. His reaction was to say that I could leave if I wanted, that it didn’t matter to him. He could just get a new wife. He really didn’t care, and today he is married to another woman.
My husband didn’t want a child anyway. If it had been up to him, I would have had an abortion. But I refused. I was scared and I thought I could die. The only way to have an abortion here is by taking traditional medicine which is unsafe.
The challenge for girls that get married young, is that they go from pretty schoolgirl to exhausted child bride that feels like she’s never good enough. All of a sudden she’s married and expected to take care of her house and husband, struggling with lack of money and becoming pregnant. And then she becomes less attractive to her husband.
He married me, and then he dumped me. Now I’m on my own, with a child I have to provide for.
Our biggest challenge, especially when we’re talking to parents, is that it’s hard to offer any good alternatives. For many, desperate poverty is what makes them marry off their daughters, and we can’t provide them with the money they need to keep them in school.
What I want to tell other young girls is not to just go with it because it seems like an easy way out, or a romantic wish. Go to school! That’s the only thing that will give you opportunities in the future.
Child marriage summarized into one word for me is: Problems!
Narrative courtesy of Plan International