The 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) takes place between March 10 – 21st at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The priority theme for this year’s CSW58 is challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Plan International is proud to have a delegation of young women in attendance, speaking on behalf of girls in their communities. This is Jacqueline’s story.
My name is Jacqueline, I am 15 years old and I am coming from Malawi. I live in a rural area where some houses are made of bricks and other houses are made of mud.
The issue of child marriage is a big issue in my area. A lot of girls are forced into marriage while they are still young and are still in school. For example, I had a friend whose name is Beatrice, we were in the same class and because her parents couldn’t afford to pay for her school fees, they forced her to get married.
At times, some parents think educating a girl is not necessary because our culture believes that when a girl is married, she is no longer part of their family or in other case no longer their property as she now belongs to husband’s family and therefore can’t provide for her parents. While for the boy, he has the power to help his family.
Apart from that, some families have a lot of children and they are not able to take care of them; therefore if one of the children, especially a girl child, is of age, they force her into marriage because it means one less mouth to feed, and at the same time there is the advantage of acquiring a dowry.
And back to Beatrice’s story: because she was just staying at home they forced her to get married so that they can have the dowry. In her family there are five children, two girls and three boys; Beatrice is the fourth-born in the family. She was 16 years old when she was married and her husband was over 20.
When I heard that Beatrice had been forced into early marriage, I felt like one part of me had disappeared because Beatrice was like a sister to me. When I heard that she was pregnant at such a young age, I was scared because I know that her body was not mature yet for child bearing and that she might die because of loss of blood during birth as in many maternal death instances. I was also scared because she could damage some of her reproductive organs due to complications during birth which would affect her having more children in future.
We need to stop child marriage. And the best way to stop child marriage is law enforcement. If this can happen, parents can stop forcing their girl child into marriage. The other way is to educate parents about the effects of sending young girls into marriage while they are still young and under age. Another way is to encourage girls to report this issue of child marriage to law enforcers like the police men and other people who can help them.
What I am doing in my community to combat child marriage: cases like Beatrice’s are very common where I come from and this forced me to take part in ensuring that the rights of girls within my community are respected and adhered to. I belong to a youth club called Youth of Mulanje Secondary Against Discrimination where we go to various communities and sensitize girls on the importance of education and to share with the girls about their rights. The group was started by Grace, another Plan delegate, one year ago. It has 26 boys and girls. At first it was just girls, but the boys wanted to be involved, so we joined forces. We are the only group working on child marriage in our community.
I would like to see a world in which girls’ voices are heard and their rights respected, where communities would not underestimate the potential in her, giving her the confidence to be what she wants to be. I think child marriage is an important issue to be tackled because the main issue is that it is destroying girls’ dreams and futures. This issue is common in my community with half of girls being forced to marry. If girls were not forced into early marriage their potential would be high, to finish school and be what they want to be in life.