Ines marries at 14 to escape El Nino’s wrath

Their nightmare started when El-Nino’s impact began to spread in Nalazi village located in southern Mozambique. The heat burned the skin and killed crops. Alzira Mandlazi, a mother of 3, was on the verge of desperation on how to feed her children - Inês, 14, Cecília, 5 and Laura, 8. Since her husband died five years ago, she was alone raising them with her meager income.

Then a man knocked on their door asking to marry Inês. The lure of leaving a life of hunger and hardship was too much to turn down. For a measly amount equivalent to US$40, the family agreed to release Ines for marriage. “My aunt urged me to marry a man who could take care of me,” Inês explained.

With the reality looking bleak around her, she accepted the family’s decision. She dropped out of school where she was studying in grade 4. Inês once dreamed to become a teacher and break the circle of poverty in her family. Instead, she went to live with the man 10 year older than her. “I did not want to marry. I wanted to study,” she said. Few months to her marriage, her husband started abusing her. Ines decided to run away when he began beating her.

“That morning, I went out to burn wood for charcoal to sell at the market. When I returned home, he was drunk and he beat me,” Ines recalled. “I went home.” She was with her family at the time El Nino was worsening in her village. Her mother Alzira decided to go to capital city Maputo to find a job leaving her three daughters behind in the care of a neighbor who was also hard-up. Since then Alzira she never came back. From time to time she sends money but it was never enough for the food of her children. 

Inês decided to follow her mother in Maputo and work as a housekeeper. “I have to help my mother because I cannot take it anymore that we have been begging for food in our neighborhood. I worked taking care of children and selling second hand clothes for a family,” Inês shared. She was to be paid UD$20 per month which she sent home for her siblings’ needs. But she lasted only for one month after getting sick.

There were no official reports of the number of children abandoning school due to El Nino but in some schools in Chibuto District, the official said they are increasing. In Nalazi Primary School, 700 children were enrolled but 40 children stopped studying for lack of food and water. Even recently, 12 more dropped out.

“If we look back at the years before the drought, the enrolment increased. This time it was the opposite. The number is dropping,” said Nalazi Primary School Headmaster, Feliciano Novela. “Even those children who stayed, their school attendance are irregular due to hunger. Children may come today and stay at home for 4-5 days,” Mr. Feliciano added. “These children live far away from school and walk for long distances on empty stomach.”

World Vision is distributing seeds of various cereals and vegetables to restore the crop failures in communities. About 30 boreholes are being drilled and others rehabilitated to provide water for animal and human consumption in Gaza province, the most hit by droughts in the country. An estimated 1.5 million people were suffering from El Nino and impact is expected to worsen in the coming months.

Following the last assessment by Mozambique’s Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) six provinces hit by El Nino, more than 95 percent of households have no cereals reserves. “If households have no food reserve, the situation raises concern. Most of the households do not expect to harvest this season,” the SETSAN report says. 

Below, girls in Mozambique's affected areas learn life skills and the value of savings in a World Vision activity to empower them against being forced to early marriage.