You may not be aware that Malawi has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, currently at 29% of the 18.5 million population. These national figures are the same as what we experience at the Lifeline Malawi Health Centre. These very young mothers, sometimes as young as 12, give birth, provide care, and support their children, while they are still children themselves. Studies show that children raised in households of adolescent mothers are more at risk of low birthweight, stunted growth, infant mortality, low school enrolment, increased grade repetition, and dropout. In Malawi, babies born to women with no education experience an under-five mortality rate of 138 per 1,000 live births, in comparison to 94 per 1,000 for women with secondary education.
These are shocking statistics! Lifeline Malawi is working with the local chiefs, community leaders, social welfare workers, pastors, educators, and in the local schools to lower these rates and to change the behaviours that lead to early pregnancies. We are united in one voice trying to turn the tides of attitude and behavioural choices.
One such behaviour issue is child marriages, which is a serious problem in Malawi. The 2017 constitutional amendment raised the age of marriage to 18, for both boys and girls. This has helped. However, many cases of child marriages persist, particularly in rural communities that still follow old practices and have chiefs who ignore the law. About 46 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, and 9 per cent before the age of 15. The main drivers of child marriage are poverty, cultural and religious traditions, and peer pressure. Other challenges with teen pregnancies result from adolescents being exposed to sexual activity at initiation ceremonies, which can lead to sex with peers and early marriages, or an unwanted pregnancy.