In a Malawi village, minors make balls out of condoms

Written by  Eunice Ndhlovu in Nkhotakota

Football is a favourite sport in most communities of Malawi and sourcing a ball from a shop can be expensive business to many youth groups as one quality ball costs K10,000.

The art of making balls out of condoms begins in a Nkhotakota village by minors. Pix by Eunice Ndhlovu, MBC Online. The art of making balls out of condoms begins in a Nkhotakota village by minors. Pix by Eunice Ndhlovu, MBC Online.

This amount of cash is not easily affordable by most teenagers in this poor southern African nation.

But not to be outdone, minors in one Nkhotakota village of Chikwawe 1 in traditional authority Mwadzama in central Malawi, are using their ingenuity and hands to patch up balls using pieces of blankets and one unlikely product: pre-used condoms.

Condoms are known to be very effective in preventing pregnancies and other sexually transmitted infections, but here condoms have taken a new meaning.

“We use a piece of blanket and wrap it around with lots of condoms. Condoms are made from rubbers so it works better for us because we are able to make strong balls,” James, 12, told MBC Online, taking a break from playing soccer with 25 of his colleagues at a dusty playground.

James, who is in standard 7, said not many people who come to watch them play soccer do realise that they make balls from condoms.

How do they source the condoms?

The condoms that these children use are provided free by health facilities by Government.

Richard, 10, said the football team which has no name, do manual labour of collecting bricks from an oven and they chose what payment to receive: Cash or condoms.

“We prefer payment in condoms. The amount is the same even when paid in cash,” said Richard, looking undisturbed.

In what could be described as child labour, the teens remove 10 bricks for one condom.

Richard chuckled when asked what he knows about condoms. “Whatever they are used for, we are Ok because we use them for balls.”

Parents in the village are not moved to check or quiz the children to find out exactly how children access condoms in this community with little ones putting on their mouths as if they are playing with balloons.

Chimwemwe, a mother, was blank as to where these condoms are coming from.

"I just see children coming with these condoms, when asked they point that that direction. I have not established where exactly the location is. But it has been two months now since children in this village accessed condoms. Reaching here they wash and inflate to make balls’, said Chimwemwe, a mother of one.

Exploitation of children

Henry Machemba from the Coalition on Child Rights bemoaned that the teenagers “are being exposed to so many dangerous situations…. putting their health at risk and this is not acceptable.”

Machemba also condemned this form of child labour, saying it “this is exploitation of children to use pay them through condoms.”

He also urged parents to be vigilant on activities of their children and guide them the dangers of being exposed to condoms at a tender age.

“Condoms are meant to protect adults from sexually transmitted diseases or as a means of birth control. But for condoms to be used in this way, its not acceptable.”

"The utilization of condoms to be found in children’s hands, that’s very wrong. We need to raise more awareness at community level for people to understand how they can take care of the condoms, how they can protect access of condoms to children and also must also make sure that children are protected and not exposed to these materials,” said Machemba.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Dan Namarika, expressed worry with a situation describing the problem as threefold: health hazard, child labour and indecent paY.

“Products from governments facilities are supposed to be used by intended beneficiaries. No child, I said no child is allowed to access condoms unless with parental consent. But even more important, where payment is done by issuing of condoms, first of all is deplorable, glossily unprofessional and inhuman’, said Namalika.

The Ministry has dispatched a team of its professionals to probe the Nkhotakota issue.

Malawi has expressed concern about low condom uptake and usage among the youth in the country in a drive to promote safe sex.

Experts say condom use remains low among sexually active 15-to-19-year-olds, with only 25% of married females and 30% of sexually active unmarried females from this age group using any form of modern contraception.

Chief Director in the Ministry of Health and Population responsible for Safe Motherhood, Ethel Kapyepye disclosed said during the commemoration of 2019 International Condom Day (ICD) on February 13, that unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among the youth are on the increase as a result of low usage of condoms.

Kapyepye noted that despite government efforts to sensitize communities on the need to go for safe sex and curb further spread of HIV, most youth have been found wanting as they opt not to use condoms during their sexual encounters.

Religious beliefs challenge

The Chief Director said some of the challenges that have been highlighted are that cultural and religious beliefs are contributing factors which are discouraging many youth from viewing condoms as a protector to their lives.

"Stigma and inaccessibility of the commodity among youth has played a part which has seen increases of cases of unwanted pregnancies and HIV transmission among young people," Kapyepye said.

ICD is an informal holiday usually observed on February 13 in conjunction with Valentine's Day which seeks to promote safer sex by promoting the use of condoms in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs

Health experts say there are an estimated 900,000 adults living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi and unprotected sexual intercourse is the major mode of transmission of HIV. The epidemic affects the most productive age groups.

But in Chikwawe 1, the helpless teenagers continue to craft condoms into balls...for football.

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