‘It happened when I was only 13 years old,’ she remembers. ‘My friend who had already found herself a husband convinced me into marriage.’
Shocking though it might seem, Myness, then barely into her teens, had agreed to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather – and a feckless alcoholic to boot
Myness is not alone, this happens to millions of girls across the world every year and the consequences are appalling. Along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI’s, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away.
Worse, many also die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications – the leading cause of death for girls aged between 15 and 19 years old in developing countries, according to UN figures.
‘Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,’ comments Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA.
For Myness, who lived in extreme poverty with her grandmother, the thought of swapping a life of hardship for that of a wife proved enough to convince her to give up school in order to marry.
‘One day my friend came to me and asked why I was suffering,’ she remembers. ‘Life was very difficult at home. We could not even afford soap.
‘My friend told me it would be better if I got married like her, so that my husband could take care of my needs.’
One day, she was approached by a much older man from her village who talked of giving her a better life – one where she’d never go hungry again.
‘He kept pursuing me to marry him,’ explains Myness. ‘He promised to take care of me, provide whatever I wanted, and after sitting for my grade eight exams I accepted.’
But life after her marriage was not what she was expected. Not only was her new husband an alcoholic, he squandered any money he earned – leaving his child bride hungry
‘My husband was an alcoholic but because my grandmother was too poor to have me back, I decided to persevere in the marriage,’ she remembers.
‘He never kept any of his promises. When I asked him [about money], he told me he had already paid my dowry of 37,000 kwacha (approximately £65) and that was the money he would have used for my upkeep.
‘I regretted what I’d done – my wish was to continue with education, but then I was helpless and had no one to support me.’
Her grandmother, who had been reluctant to allow Myness to marry in the first place, was furious but says she didn’t know how to get her grandchild back.
But Myness’ fortunes took a turn for the better when her grade eight exam results, which included passes in every subject, were released to her grandmother.
‘I cried when I received the good news about my grandchild’s performance,’ she reveals. ‘I was happy, yet disturbed as I didn’t know what to do.
‘I went back to school and talked to the teacher who advised me to seek help from the Child Protection Committee in our village to bring Myness back home.’
Horrified by Myness’ tender age, the Child Protection Committee, trained by children’s charity Plan International, swung into action and traced the schoolgirl to her husband’s house.
‘I was at home when some people [the child protection committee members] came and asked me if I was aware that I passed my exams and had been selected to join one of the best schools in my district,’ remembers Myness.
‘They promised to contribute part of my school fee and I decided to run away while my husband was away.
‘I was afraid and thought he would come looking for me, but I have never seen him. The committee contributed some money and paid part of my school fee.’
And Myness is by no means alone. Malawi remains a country with a high number of child brides, with girls living in the north of the country at a particularly high risk of being married off to anyone who can afford their dowry.