In Malawi, many young girls are working instead of going to school.

An NGO is trying to change that.

A project by Action Aid, Social Empowerment on Rights and Vulnerable and Excluded Women(SERVE), is working in partnership with a grassroots organization, the Malawi Women?s Forum, to convince girls who drop out to return to their studies.

The Forum hopes to improve government figures that show that about 40 percent of all children under 15 are working either full or part-time, rather than attending school. Of this number, many more are likely to be girls, since families traditionally favor educating sons over daughters.  As a result, girls are likely to drop out after primary school, which is free.


Project coordinator Wezi Kenani says girls are also likely to drop out of school because tradition forces them into early marriage. Early pregnancy and demanding house chores then become an impediment for the girls to continue their education.

On the other hand, "If a girl child is educated," she said, "she can stand on her own and start supporting herself," Kenani says members of the forum visit the homes of school drop-outs and talk to them and their parents about the importance of going back to school.

"Literacy is a door to ending poverty," she continued. "If a girl child is educated, she can stand on her own and start supporting herself," said Kenani.  "[The need for financial independence comes into play] when they are widowed and the husband's family decides to take away property. This doesn't affect them much [if] they can stand on their own. They can support themselves and their families."

Wezi Kenani says another challenge is to meet the girls' immediate needs, like school materials.

"We are not really giving financial assistance where we pay their fees and everything, but we refer them to institutions like social welfare. But some Women Forum committees make monthly contributions like the 50 ($0.35) or 30 ($0.20) Kwachas, from which they buy text books and whatever needs the girls have. It's just an initiative by [individual] women. They have been doing that just from their own contributions," she said.

Child care and education activists hope initiatives to keep girls in school will help Malawi meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, which set 2015 as a target date for ensuring that boys and girls complete full primary school and that there is gender parity in education.