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Malawi teenagers become ambassadors for International day of the girl

To mark the first United Nations ‘International day of the girl’ on October 11th, two teenagers from Malawi have been visiting London’s Southbank Centre.

The young women have made a video talking about some of the issues facing girls in Malawi and this can be seen on the development page of The Guardian’s website.

Wrapped in winter clothes for the UK weather, Grace, 15, says she wanted to take part in the International day of the girl to help highlight some of the barriers girls in Malawi face in getting an education. One of the main obstacles is the pressure placed on many young girls to marry early. Malawi is one of the ten countries in the world which have the highest proportion of early marriages, with half of young women aged 20-24 saying they were married by the age of 18. Grace explains that if girls are forced to give up their education to enter an early marriage, they are unable to gain paid employment later, something which helps women to provide for themselves and their families.

Early marriage can also lead to increased health risks for teenagers. Grace tells the story of one of her friends, Maria, who married at fifteen. Maria had lost both her parents and marriage was seen as her best route out of poverty. However, Maria died in childbirth. Complications during and after childbirth are more common for young girls, because their bodies are not yet fully mature.

Grace’s companion, Maness, 16, says that laws in Malawi need to be enforced when someone is found to have entered into an illegal early marriage. Despite many girls in Malawi being married at an age before they can legally do so, prosecutions are seldom brought. This situation helps to foster a belief that such marriages are acceptable. Maness thinks “harsh punishments” should be given out, so that people can see there will be penalties for those who break the law.

Maness and Grace end the video by speaking warmly about having a female president in Malawi now. They hope that Joyce Banda will help “open the door” for girls, because as a woman she will understand the barriers facing them, such as the need for poor families to afford school fees, which discourages some from educating their daughters all the way.

Watch youngsters from the SOS Children’s Village in Lilongwe talk about this issue at http://www.our-africa.org/malawi/child-rights.

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