By Caroline Chidandale
Adolescence is a pivotal time in the life course when there is considerable opportunity for change. At the same time it is also a period when adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to a range of life-changing experiences including trauma, social isolation, bullying by peers, a lack of supportive adults, and other forms of violence. In Malawi, a child is legally defined as any person under the age of 18 and more than 1 in 5 adolescent girls have begun bearing children by the age 17.
When an adolescent girl gets pregnant, there are a lot of things that happen in their lives like low self-esteem, lack of confidence and loss of friendship and trust with relations. Adolescent girls and their babies may experience psychological and social distress due to the following factors: unmet basic needs, food insecurity, unmet needs for basic protection and safety in their homes and in their community, no consistent day-to-day caring by primary caregivers like parents, relatives and father of the child, no positive child-caregiver interaction activities which result in lack of bondage, lack of encouragement and affirmation, the unfulfilled need for a sense of belonging in the family, unequal sharing of resources within the family resulting in neglect, exposure to stigma, discrimination and bullying, social isolation and rejection by the community and the need for participation in own healthcare management. This means that adolescent mothers and their babies do not only need material support, healthcare and education, but also emotionally responsive relationships, for optimal growth and well-being. Babies born to teenage mothers are disadvantaged in the way that they are most likely to face the following challenges.
- Increased risks for pre-term delivery
- Low birth weight and high neonatal mortality.
- Infants born to teenage mothers aged 17 or younger have a higher risk for low Apgar score at 5 min
- lower IQ and academic achievement later on, including a greater risk of repeating a grade
- greater risk of socio-emotional problems
- A greater risk of having a fatal accident before age one as a result of lack of parenting skills of the adolescent mother
- A greater probability of starting one’s own family at an early age
Psychosocial support includes rebuilding and strengthening relationships which are vital to human development. It has been argued that the most powerful and important form of psychosocial support is everyday care and support provided by families, households, friends, teachers, community members and significant others and it is this premise that guides psychosocial interventions.
The Young Women Christian Association of Malawi (YWCA) is a faith based non-governmental organization which is carrying out a project titled Community model for fostering health and well-being of adolescent mothers and their babies. The aim of the project to improve early child development of babies born to teenage mothers. We also aim to improve the well-being of young mothers in Malawi.
We will provide psychosocial support for the young mothers to enable them to cope with parenthood. This will be done through monthly support group meetings, in these meetings mothers will be free to express themselves, receive education on various topics e.g nutrition as well as building capacity to build resilience on how to cope with stress. For the babies there are baby corners for stimulating growth and development of the babies. The project is being conducted in three sites in Malawi, Namiyango in Blantyre, Likhubula in Mulanje and Mchema village in Machinga. Intervention meetings with these mothers in all sites happen twice every month where they learn a topic every month and babies are stimulated in a separate room by doing different activities that helps in the physical development, social development, cognitive development, spiritual development, communication and in approaches towards learning of the babies. During these meetings Likuni phala is provided to both the mother and the children as a way of teaching the mothers on how to properly feed their children to support the nutrition of their babies. The mothers intervention meetings started in December,2017.