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Teenage pregnancies in Malawi: a complex reality

Teenage pregnancies and child marriage interlinked

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Tags: Malawi, Yes I Do

Malawi is nicknamed as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ because of the remarkable friendliness of its people. During my very first visit to Malawi, I experienced feeling this warmth myself. I also recall seeing groups of teenage girls carrying babies on their backs.

I remember asking one of my Malawian colleagues whether they were babysitting or carrying their own children. She laughed. Her answer was straightforward: ‘they are holding their own babies and they are proud of it’. I felt naive. Her comment touched upon a complex truth.

they are holding their own babies and they are proud of it
SRHR professional in Malawi

Young people might miss educational and economic opportunities

Teenage pregnancies and child marriage are interlinked. Whenever a (young) woman becomes pregnant, many times she is expected to marry the man with whom she became pregnant. If a girl bears children before she is physically, mentally and emotionally ready, it can have major negative physical and mental health consequences. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy prevent young people completing their education. Consequently, young people might miss the educational and economic opportunities that can help them and their families rise above poverty’.

The YES I Do Baseline report Malawi (PDF, 2016) shows that in 2015/16, a third of the women aged 15-19 had begun child bearing. 49.9% of the women aged 20-49 years old were married before the age of 18 years. Twenty eight percent (28%) of the women aged 15-19 were married.

The only way out

Research shows that teenage pregnancies and early marriages for some girls is their only way ‘out’; Becoming a mother, being considered an adult by the community and having a husband offers more opportunities than a diploma. That is why the Yes I Do programme aims to target multiple socioeconomic, and political inequalities that severely limit individuals’ options for behaviour change.

Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM), Rutgers’ Yes I Do partner in Malawi, and other partners, train teachers, school authorities and health care workers on SRHR to create a more enabling and safe environment for girls in schools and link young people to youth-friendly health services in the intervention areas.

Returning to school

Despite these efforts, the Yes I Do research shows that the number of teenage pregnancies is not going down. This shouldn’t be concluded as failure though. As a result of the dialogues the YIDA programme engages in with schools, girls who are pregnant or have given birth, are returning to school. In the Malawian context, where realities of poverty, uncertainty, family obligations, and lack of options to formal employment are all interlinked to teenage pregnancies and child marriage, this can be considered an important change in a complex reality.

Read more about Yes I Do.

Blog by: Aida Bilajbegovic – Programme officer & technical advisor

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