“Since I was young, my thoughts have been about education,” says Catherine Kauka, a 19 year old girl from Mwakaoka Village, Malawi.
Catherine lives with and cares for her blind grandmother. She helps with the daily household chores, such as cleaning and cooking, drawing water, and washing clothes. Catherine also works, selling fish to fund her education.
While fish sales help her follow her dream of finishing school, attempting to collect payment from one customer almost led her into a life of forced marriage.
Catherine recalls, “one day, I went to the house of a friend who had bought fish on credit…When [she went to fetch the money, she also] phoned her brother to tell him I was there. Suddenly, her brother arrived with five other boys. He grabbed me from the house... He kept me locked inside his [home] for 2 days.”
After the abduction, the boy considered himself and Catherine married. Catherine’s community often accepts these marriages as legitimate, ignoring the wishes of the girl and laws that protect her from forced marriage. Luckily for Catherine, her father learned of her abduction and ensured that Catherine was returned home.
Her escape from forced marriage may not be the norm in her village, but it gives Catherine hope for the future. She plans to sit for her high school exit exams and is determined to succeed.
“I wish to be employed in the National Revenue Department and become a Malawi Revenue Authority Officer,” she says.
She hopes that others can learn from her experience.
“Girls need the support of everyone to make this happen; to give us hope,” she says.
Catherine, like young women around the world, still thinks of marriage. By escaping her kidnapper and staying in school, she can now dream of one with the man and at the time of her choice.