School communities unite to end gender-based violence and child marriage in Mozambique
MANICA, Mozambique - Sitting on a bench in the courtyard of Madzicuera Secondary School, teachers Flora Senguaio and Eugénio Francisco discuss how they work with their students to eliminate violence at school and to prevent students dropping out due to child marriage.
Globally, women, girls and adolescents are exposed to several forms of violence that keep them out of school and put their lives at risk. In Mozambique, an estimated 2.4 million children, adolescents and young people are out of school (MINEDH and UNESCO, 2015).
In Manica province, teacher-mentors work with the Police and the Institute for Legal Assistance (IPAJ, in the Portuguese acronym), justice institutions supported by the Spotlight Initiative, to inform students about gender-based violence, including harmful practices such as child marriage.
"Today, our students know what gender-based violence is. They can stand up for themselves or others, always counting on the school community's support." - Flora Senguaio, teacher
Child marriage for girls is a widespread challenge, with an estimated prevalence exceeding 30 per cent or more in 41 countries (UNICEF, 2019). While there is a complex combination of factors underlying girls' school dropout, including poverty and gendered social norms, early marriage is commonly highlighted as one of its key causes and consequences. Conversely, a higher levels of education and information are associated with later marriage and pregnancy (UNICEF, 2019).
"We explain to our students that violence is not normal and that dialogue is the best form of conflict resolution. We also talk about the existing mechanisms for anonymous reporting to institutions such as the police and IPAJ, which can support them in resolving violence cases or child marriages," explained Flora Senguaio, a teacher for more than ten years and teacher-mentor since 2019.
Flora says that due to her talks and awareness-raising activities, her students, especially girls, now have the courage to report violence and child marriage, and to take action through the response and resolution mechanisms.
With the support of the Spotlight Initiative, a Multi-Sectoral Mechanism for the Prevention, Reporting, Referral and Response to Violence against Children in Schools has been established at schools, and child-friendly information on the prevention of child marriage has been shared among the school community, reaching around 5,000 students.
"Today, our students know what gender-based violence is. They can stand up for themselves or others, always counting on the school community's support. When we know that there are signs of violence, we alert the School Council who talk to the Police, and visits are made to homes. In addition, we raise the awareness of parents and legal guardians on gender-based violence and child marriage, spreading the word about laws and existing reporting mechanisms," says Ms Senguaio.
Girls belong at school
Eugénio Francisco is also a teacher-mentor. He has been informing students about gender-based violence, positive masculinities and the law against child marriage. The results have been positive.
"The number of school dropouts has decreased significantly in recent times, due largely to the reduction in child marriage," says Mr. Francisco. "Children and adolescents understand the value of school and know what violence means; they also take this knowledge back home. Then, in parallel, there is coordinated work for the prevention and fight against child marriage and the response to violence in general," he said.
Since 2019, the Spotlight Initiative has trained more than 2,000 adolescents and about 500 teachers as mentors and mobilisers to eliminate violence against women and girls and prevent child marriage.
Mr. Francsico shares two successful cases, which, due to a coordinated effort between the School Council, local community leaders, IPAJ and the Police, culminated in the return of two missing girls to school.
"The level of school dropouts has decreased significantly. Children and adolescents understand the value of school and know what violence means". - Eugénio Francisco, teacher
"By school policy, we regularly monitor attendance and noticed that two female students had not been to class for some time. We became concerned and followed up until we located the girls. We talked to them and their parents and got them back to school. They were going to get married, and because of our intervention, they did not," says the teacher. "Today, they are where they should be: in school”.
The global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is a United Nations initiative in partnership with the European Union and other partners. In Mozambique, the Spotlight Initiative is led by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Action (MGCAS) in partnership with the United Nations and civil society organizations (CSOs).
By Mateus Fotine