Young and Endangered: School Girls Growing Up in Local Distillery Villages

Growing up a girl in Malawi has its own challenges. Especially growing up in rural Malawi areas. It is even more challenging for a girl growing up in a rural setting in this country and from a home where brewing beer and distilling alcohol, for imbibers, is the sole means of survival.

In this special report, Chikondi Mphande, takes us to some villages in this country where girls, as young as ten, brew beer and distill local gin in their homes. The majority of these girls are turned into sex toys for the imbibers. Some have ended up becoming teen-mothers.

While most of the girls just have no time for school, the few who still do are traumatized. Their class performance is negatively affected. Some of the girls end-up becoming teen-mothers.

The first house we come to in Nkutu village in Dedza district is crowded. The atmosphere is one of a people in a party mood. A whole village in a party mood.

Men and women; young and old; Boys and girls and children too. Dancing and beer drinking.

A mother candling a four-year-old child is helping the baby gulp down a beer cup.

This, we understand, is the way of life in Nkutu village and most villages in the area of Traditional Authority Kamenyagwaza.

But the focus of our visit in this village are girls. Girls born and raised in homes where opaque beer called masese is brewed on where a local gin-called kachasu or nkalabongo- is distilled.

“I help my parents sell the beer. The drinking starts very early in the morning and enda late at night. It’s disgusting. I see drunk adults strip naked. I have seen people make love in our bathroom. I am disturbed. Some customers will roll over me when drunk.

“I started this work four years ago. It is so noisy at night. I cannot study. The music and shouting is too much. I am usually still tired the next morning and fail to concentrate in class. Sometimes I fear that I could get defiled someday,” said Mada.

That girl is aged 14. She is in Standard Six at Nkutu Primary School. She is worried that the environment that she is growing in could stand in the way of her dream of becoming a nurse.

In the same village, we met this girl. We will call her Justina. She is 11. A last born in a family of five. She has to face drunkards day in day out. One day, she witnessed an after-fight death.

“I had just returned from school. Two drunk customers were fighting. It got so fierce that one was killed in front of us. Police later came to collect the body. They arrested the other person. Since that day, I cannot concentrate in class. The site keeps coming,” said Justina.

Justina wishes to become a Catholic nun when she grows up.

Justina’s situation is similar to a string-other girls from Nkutu and surrounding villages. These are girls aged between 10 and 18. Traumatized and without immediate option out now.

Community Policing Coordinator Sub Inspector Frank Kayira says, excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks is a challenge contributing to murder cases in TA Kamenyagwaza in Dedza. “We are receiving murder and assault cases from TA Kamenyagwaza. Drinking is contributing to murder and assault cases in the area but we are taking action,” Kayira said.

Malawi Human Rights Commission Acting Director of Child Rights, Priscilla Thawe, says the commission is receiving complaints of this nature and sees a need for psycho-social support.

Ferdinand Ngaicho is headteacher for Nkutu Primary School. Here she talks about the average performance of children coming from homes where beer is brewed.

Benjamin Kapuchi, is a social welfare expert in Dedza. His office is working alongside other players sensitizing parents and guardians on the rights of children and laws that protect children.

Child Protection Manager at Plan Malawi Tionge Kamfose said, it is sad that rights for children are being violated and there is need for more awareness campaigns.

Traditional Authority Kamenyagwaza of Dedza has since directed that all chiefs and parents in his area shout not allow children be involved in the distilling, brewing and selling of beer and alcohols.

In Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba, we also found cases similar to those in Dedza,this is what they told us.

“Am Ethel. l was 13 when I was first made to drink alcohol. My uncle said the best treatment for the cough that I had was to drink masese. It was not true. I had a terrible headache that day.”

“My name is Enifa. I am forced to do things that please customers. I am forced to drink with them. I also run such errands as buying cigarettes for them. My mother won’t take my complaining. She says if I don’t do as the customers’ please, they will not return. Once I got pregnant. Now I have a child.”

“My name is Kate. I live in Blantyre with my granny. She sells kachasu. I face challenges serving customers. Some touch my private parts, Sometimes I miss classes to sell beer"

“Am Regina from Lilongwe. I brew beer. Sometimes I am forced to taste. I am not happy. My wish to get an education is being infringed upon. I fear the worst someday”.

Twelve-year-old Martha is also in Standard five. She too has to help sell alcohol at home after school. This is where the money for the home comes. But she is facing a difficult time growing

"Kachasu customers insult and shout at us. I spend so much time selling alcohol. It’s affecting my school. I can’t remember things as I should. Our home is not safe. It is full of drunkards. Very difficult to study at night,” said Martha

Coleta Belenado is in her 70s. She too is worried with the situation in this area.

She observes that because of the environment, the majority of girls do not complete school.

“It is not safe for girls. It’s tougher for children from homes where beer is brew. Children from these homes are not protected. They start drinking at a tender age. They are into gambling and smoking. They eventually quit school, most of them,” said Belenado.

In one incident in a village in Dedza, a customer put poison in another’s drink. He died as a 13- year-old girl watched. And that has become indelible in the girl’s mind. It is traumatic.

Ceceli Bonga has been brewing opaque beer for a living for years. She has ever left her daughter run sells as she run other errands for the home. She thinks society must understand the reasons.

“Our children are in danger but there is nothing we can do. My daughter was impregnated by a customer when she was only in form 3. She quit school. She is now married. Our children are exposed to a lot of things. Most times they are with men,” said Cecelia.

In a society where alcohol drives the socio-economic fabric of people, the protection of children, especially girls becomes a responsibility of the whole village. 2030 agenda Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 aims to end all violence against children by emphasizing on the need to realize the right of every child to live free from fear, neglect, abuse and all forms of exploitation.

Ultimately, it is crucial to actualize the Umunthu feeling that ‘it takes a village to grow a child’.

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