Olivia was just 14-years-old when she got married and dropped out of school.
Child marriage is compromising the futures of millions of girls around the world, often leaving them isolated and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. Malawi, where Olivia is from, has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world and despite a new law that recently made it illegal for children like Olivia to marry, nearly one in two girls are married before the age of 18.
Married life was not what she expected. Olivia said: “I stopped going to school when I went to live with my husband. I would do housewife chores, cooking, finding food, fetching water, for him and his family. I did everything by myself. It was not how I thought it would be. I was not happy being married.
His house was close to the road and I would look out of the window and see other children going to school. I wanted to be with them.”Her parents were angry that she had left the family home but desperately wanted her to come back. Heartbroken, they sought the help and advice of a mothers’ group in their community.
Members of the mothers’ group had received training from Concern Worldwide, supported by Comic Relief and UK aid. Concern Worldwide, through their local partners, Theatre for a Change and Women’s Legal Resource Centre, work hand-in-hand with families, schools and communities to tackle the root causes of child marriage and other barriers that often cut short girls’ education.
One really effective way of doing this is working with structures that already exist in the community, such as the highly respected mothers’ groups, who are trained to help families in circumstances such as Olivia’s.
Olivia said: “People from the community in a mothers’group used to regularly meet me at the house. They told me examples of girls that have dropped out of school but then came back and are now doing well in life. The women’s group told me I had not reached the age to get married and I should be in school.”
The project also runs a number of groups, including a girls’ club, which uses fun, creative methods such as acting, singing and dancing to build girls’ confidence and increase their self-esteem. It also teaches them important lessons on their rights, how to avoid gender-based violence and unplanned pregnancies -and encourages the girls back into education.
With the support of both the mothers’ group and the girls’ club, Olivia left her marriage after two months. She is now preparing to go back to school this September and is determined to work hard to fulfil her dreams of becoming a teacher.