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Malawi: From child bride to sex worker

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 6 Mar 2014 12:00 GMT
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A girl stands next to her sugarcane stall in Dowa outside Lilongwe, April 20,2007. Photo taken on April 20, 2007. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –  Chikondi  was 14 years old when she was forced to marry her 19-year-old boyfriend, she told Human Rights Watch  in a report about child marriage in Malawi.

“My mother and sister pressured me to marry my boyfriend because they wanted to get money,” she said. 

“My mother used to tell me: ‘Marry him so that he can assist us.’” 

Chikondi had passed her primary school exams and wanted to continue with her secondary education. 

But she gave in.

“I was not happy in my marriage because my husband beat me every day. He was verbally abusive and used to tell me when I complained about the violence: ‘You should not ask me anything because your mother pushed you to me’,” she said.

“I reported to my mother that my husband beats me but she forced me to go back to him saying I should endure because that is how marriages are.

“I left my husband because the beating became too much. But I had nowhere to stay after I left him. I went to my sister and my mother but they chased me away and told me to return to him.

“A friend of mine agreed to accommodate me and my child for three months. After the three months she told me, ‘Why do you want me to keep looking after you? Why don’t you do the work that I do?’

“That is how I started sex work.”

She is 18 years old. 

‘I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO BE A WIFE’

Malawi has the eighth highest rate of child marriage in the world, with half of girls marrying before the age of 18, according to the United Nations.

Poverty is one of the driving forces. Girls find boyfriends who can provide them with basics that their parents cannot afford.

Elina used to have sex with a fisherman who gave her money. When she got pregnant, her mother forced her to marry him. 

She was 15. He was 24.

“I faced a lot of problems in marriage. I was young and did not know how to be a wife.” she said.

“I was pregnant, had to look after my husband, do housework, deal with in-laws, and work on the farm. My worst time was when I was pregnant; I had to do all this and deal with a pregnancy while I was just a child myself.

“My husband started beating me and abusing me verbally. His mother told him not to give me money and he stopped supporting me and our child.

“I left him early this year.”

She is 19 years old.

‘THERE IS NO HAPPINESS” 

Kalinde got married at the age of 15 and has two children.

“I did not want to marry but I agreed because of poverty at home… During the marriage ceremony, I was told to respect my husband and never to deny him sex. I was told to bear it when I get problems because that is how marriages are,” she said.

“I was a small girl and I did not know anything about marriage. One time, my stomach started getting big and I was having severe headaches. I was so scared; I did not know what was happening. I went to the hospital and that is when the nurse told me I was five months pregnant.

“I am not happy in my marriage because my husband goes away without leaving food and takes long to come back home. My husband also beats me and is a womaniser. I love him so much but he does not love me and that is why he has very many women.

“When my husband comes back from other women and wants sex, I just accept because he is my husband. We do not use condoms because he already infected me with HIV.

“Marriage is not good for girls. There is no happiness. I want change for girls and that is why I want my story to be heard by all girls out there thinking of marriage.”

She is 23 years old. She said she is waiting for her husband to change otherwise she will leave him.

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