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Melissa became invisible to her government when she was forced to leave school and so disappeared from official records. Without an education or skills, she now lacks opportunities and support to follow her ambitions.

Melissa, a 17-year-old orphan from Zimbabwe, dropped out of school 2 years ago due to the high cost of fees.

It’s important that girls like Melissa are counted so we can bring visibility to and help change their lives

“I had 4 years of school when my mother was alive, but had no money to register for my secondary school exams so I dropped out,” says Melissa. “My stepfather would pay for my school fees but now I don’t know where he and my brother are.”

Melissa now spends her time doing household chores. She says: “When I wake up, I sweep the yard and do the dishes. Then I water the garden. I enjoy cooking. I liked playing netball when I was at school and I still find time to play it. That’s it, though: chores and a bit of netball. There’s nothing else to do here.”

Invisibility leads to inactivity

Being idle is common among girls in rural Zimbabwe who have left school and lack skills and opportunities to get jobs. Plan International’s report ‘Counting the Invisible’ shows that girls are worried about staying at home with no education or opportunities to develop their skills.

Learn more about Counting the Invisible Of the girls interviewed as part of the report, 81% aged between 15-19 said they had to drop out of school either temporarily or permanently. Most said the reason behind this was money, whilst others revealed early pregnancy and early marriage as key factors.

Once out of school, girls said the risk of early marriage and early pregnancy increased, which they see as an inevitable consequence of having nothing else to do with their lives. They also reported feeling pressure to marry in order to relieve the financial burden on their families.

Girls not supported

“Girls who drop out of school and marry disappear from official statistics so service providers are less inclined to support them,” says Lennart Reinius, Country Director of Plan International Zimbabwe. “In addition, factors such as poverty, rural isolation and lack of opportunity reinforce this invisibility. It’s important that girls like Melissa are counted so we can bring visibility to and help change their lives.”

Unlike many other girls in a similar situation, Melissa does not want to get married and have children until she is ready. “The time for marriage is not yet. Marriage is tough. I don’t want that,” she says.  

Despite this she is worried by her uncertain prospects: “I only see a bleak future. I have no education. I have to change it and go back to school.”  

Learn more about Counting the Invisible