Child marriage was made illegal in Malawi in 2015. Despite this, in many communities the rates of child marriage remain high. Families often see marrying off their under-age daughters as a crucial short-term solution to acute financial problems. This means that many girls are deprived of their rights over their own body or their right to choose a partner, and instead are taught that their only role in life is as a wife and mother.

These girls are often not taught about contraception or about their sexual and reproductive rights, which means that they are not able to make safe and informed choices about their own bodies. It leaves them more at risk of early pregnancy, which can have physical complications; and where these pregnancies are outside marriage, they are often met with social stigma and exclusion from family and community life. This often results in girls withdrawing from school and not being able to complete their education.

In 2017, we worked in partnership with Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), a Malawian organisation that engages with young people, parents and communities to tackle the social stigma that keeps girls from attending school and fulfilling their potential. By providing these organisations with volunteers, we ensured that they had the people-power they needed to deliver training to parents like Mussa.

When Mussa Mugoya’s daughter Melina* became pregnant at the age of 15, he says their relationship changed for the worse: “I had taught her to be respected within the community. I felt that if I continued to support her to go to school whilst pregnant, I would be seen to be encouraging a lifestyle that is not acceptable.”

Mussa says the training had a profound impact on him: “It opened my eyes to issues such as child pregnancy, the importance of education and the impact of negative parent-child relationships. After the training, I saw the bigger picture.”

Six months on from the training, Mussa says: “I started providing for Melina again and ensured she went back to school. My wife and I look after the baby while she is at school, and Melina will soon be sitting her final exams to go to secondary school.”

Having seen the impact this training has had on his own family, Mussa now volunteers for YONECO to educate other parents about the importance of keeping their girls in school.

"Girls are now being encouraged to go back to school with the support of the whole community. We're forming new parenting circles so we can continue to learn from each other, and give more girls control over their future."

Every day, we work with extraordinary organisations to help communities develop solutions to local problems. You can support local projects that are making a lasting difference in the lives of girls like Melina.