Enala Ngulu was just 14 years old when she was married off as a third wife to a 47 year old man, in 1994. Enala said that when she was forced into marriage at a young age, her dreams and hopes of getting education and being independent were shuttered. She loved school, but had to drop out when she got married.
Most girls who are married off before they turn 18 or are forced into early marriages are made to leave school, depriving them of their right to education and future independence.
Globally, 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthdays – a third even before their 15th birthdays. And, without major efforts to stop child marriage worldwide, another 150 million girls are expected to be married as children by 2030, according to UNICEF.
It took decades for Enala to get back on her feet. At almost the age of 30 years, with six children, Enala decided to go back to school, and started where she left off – at primary school. She found herself attending the same class as one of her children. She said that was humiliating as other children in the school would mock her and make fun of her. As humiliating that was, Elana was determined to get her education, she was courageous and persevered. She understood that education plays a critical role in one’s well-being and welfare, especially young women and girls.
It was not an easy journey for her, but she managed to complete her primary and second education. She said she was fortunate enough to secure a scholarship for her undergraduate studies and obtained a degree in Gender and Development in 2018.
She said it is because of what she went through that made her pursue a degree in Gender and Development. She is now based in Balaka, Malawi and works as a safeguarding Field Facilitator with foundation for community support services and also works as a motivational speaker. She goes around the local school to motivate and encourage school girls to stay in school and advocates against child marriage. In her talks, she prioritizes SDG 4, and her slogan is “Teen mothers is not the end of the world”, to encourage those who think they cannot turn their lives around because they have already been married off.
“Due to widespread poverty in Malawi, educating children is a heavy burden for many families. When faced with a choice, parents will often choose to invest in education for their sons instead of daughters. Therefore, there is a dire need to promote the education of women and young girls in Malawi in order to improve their quality of life,” she said.
She further said that it is important to keep girls in school – it deters early marriages. By robbing girls of a chance to learn, grow, and fully realize their potential, child marriage systematically dis-empowers them. It ensures that they remain dependent on others all their lives, strips them of their agency, makes them vulnerable to abuse, and can trap them in a cycle of poverty. Providing girls with equal access to quality education and allowing them to complete their studies will enable them to support themselves and lead fulfilled, independent lives.