By Jecina Chikwelete

Section 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi adopted in 1994, and amended in 2010, says Children are entitled to be protected from economic exploitation or any treatment, work or punishment that is, or is likely to be hazardous;interfere with their education; or be harmful to their health or to their physical, mental or spiritual or social development.

But this is not the case with children heading families in different localities across the country.

As Malawi joins the world in commemorating the day of the girl child today, we are looking into challenges that child-headed families are facing.

The majority of these families are headed by young and vulnerable girls that are actually supposed to be under parental care.

The Malawi Demographic and Household Survey indicates that about 19%  of the households are headed by orphaned children across the country.

About 16.7% of children under-18 years are orphans who are heading households.

In our case study, Mgona Township in Lilongwe has over 8 child-headed families that are facing diverse challenges.

The rights of these children are being violated as they do not have access to quality education and other social amenities due to poverty.

These children lack parental care and proper nutrition, have inadequate shelter and limited access to health care.

Well-wishers in the name of volunteers are the ones taking care of these children and have told Timveni News Desk that life is not easy for the girls living as heads of their families.

Jean Mbeta is one of the volunteers and says most of the times the children sleep on an empty stomach and this forces them to skip their ART medication.

Mbeta has therefore asked other well-wishers to lend a helping hand to the families so that school-going children can also enjoy their right to education and fulfill their potential.

But what are child rights advocates saying on girl-headed families?

Amos Chibwana says it is unfortunate that children live under torrid conditions right under the nose of government and other stakeholders.

According to Chibwana, the Child Care Protection and Justice Act gives the mandate to parents, guardians and all stakeholders to protect children and also provide for children.

Chibwana adds that the alarming number of defilement cases should also awaken the authorities to act speedily in protecting children.

The International Day of the Girl Child is being commemorated under the theme:’ Our time is now, our rights, our future.”

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