The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 changed everything, for everyone. Just like in the United States, schools have been closed in Malawi since March. The closing of schools brought alarming challenges to continued learning, especially since few have access to internet resources. Yet, perhaps even more alarming, the closing of schools brought life safety issues for many children, especially girls.
Even in Malawi schools provide a safe place for children. There are advocates at school, and in Malawi safety in numbers. With schools closed many children found themselves alone at home or in the village for long hours, even days at a time. They found themselves vulnerable to abuse from parents and other adults just because of their new reality.
As a result, reports of child abuse began to grow quickly. These reports included abuses of child labor, but also physical abuses. Young girls seemed to suffer the most. In one district alone, more than 2,000 teenage pregnancies were reported during the late Spring. This represented more than a 100% increase over the prior year. Other abuses were up too. Child marriages and sexual abuse against children also rose more than 100% compared to the year before.
In defense of these vulnerable children and girls, Y-Malawi and our partners responded with child protection campaigns. These have included children of all ages, but particularly young girls. Each campaign was designed to raise awareness, to give girls knowledge, and to arm them with actions they can take to avoid danger. Speakers included welfare workers, nurses, police officers, clergy, and older girl role models.
Each girl received a workbook and the encouragement that they are not alone and that they are loved. They learned that they have a voice and they have recourse. Literally thousands of children and girls have attended. Many adults have attended too. As schools begin to reopen in Malawi, each of these girls will take with them this new knowledge that will help guide, protect, and enable them way beyond the events of 2020. We are so grateful for the special gifts that have made these campaigns possible.
Take that COVID! Take that 2020! Take that abuse!