MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka
DESPITE Government and stakeholders putting in place various interventions to prevent early marriage, Zambia is still among countries in the world that have high rates of the scourge.
Statistics show that 31 percent of women aged between 20-24 years in Zambia are married by the age of 18.
The rates of child marriage are very high in rural areas compared to urban areas and Chamuka chiefdom in Central Province is not an exception.
In 2016, over 200 girls aged between 13 and 19 in Chief Chamuka’s chiefdom dropped out of school due to early marriage and pregnancy.
The situation is however bound to change as first lady Esther Lungu together with her Ghanaian counterpart Rebecca-Akufo Addo launched by-laws to end child marriage, teenage pregnancies, child defilement and child labour.
Speaking at the launch at his chiefdom recently, Chief Chamuka observed that the rate of girls dropping out of school is alarming.
“In the period 2015-2016, we had about 236 girls dropping out of school and 102 people were retrieved and taken back to school. 134 are still married but we are trying our best to take them back to school,” he said.
With the implementation of the by-laws, all marriages in the chiefdom will be registered to ascertain the age of all married couples.
Parents with the intention of marrying off their daughter will now be requested to produce a birth certificate to the headman to ascertain whether the girl has reached a rightful age to get married.
This means that parents will also produce written consent as a sign of approval to marry off a girl who has reached the age of 21 as well as written consent from such a child as a sign that she has not been forced into marriage.
To strengthen the fight, village headmen will have the power approve marriages on condition that all the requirements are met.
A family that will be found forcing their daughter into marriage will be fined K10, 000 and all monies obtained from the marriage will be forfeited to the chiefdom child protection bank account.
All villages in the chiefdom will form special committees to fight child marriages through sensitisation and submission of reports to the chief for further determination.
The committees will in turn be supported by para-legal desks in each of the wards in the chiefdom to provide legal advice to the people and refer cases requiring further determination to the police.
As a way of strengthening the measures, the chiefdom will work with Government, other line ministries and stakeholders that are championing the fight against early marriage.
All schools in the chiefdom will form child rights clubs and victims of child marriages and early pregnancy will be offered educational support.
It is also important to note that there are strong partnerships between the chiefdom and schools to enable schools report the rate of girls who are dropping out of school.
This means that failing to report cases of teenage pregnancy will be deemed as an offence and anyone found concealing information would be liable for punishment.
Partnerships among the chiefdom and all health centres will be used as a channel through which counselling and education sessions on adolescent sexual reproductive health to young girls and the dangers of engaging in early marriage and unprotected sex will be communicated.
Health centres in the chiefdom will be required to conduct pregnancy tests at the beginning and close of the school term.
The by-laws have given parents optimism: the end of early marriages is near.
Emmanuel Tembo, a parent said the by-laws will restrain parents in the chiefdom from forcing their daughters into marriage.
Mr Tembo is hopeful the safety of girl children in the chiefdom will be guaranteed.
And Agness Malambo, another parent hailed the launch of the by-laws as a step in the right direction.
“I am happy because it is now clear that parents will be scared to marry off their daughter because of fear of the wrath of the law,” she said.
And Anna Mwila a Grade 11 pupil at Chisamba Boarding Secondary School thinks most of the girls will now be able to complete secondary school.
For Anna, the by-laws could not have come at a better time than now when cases of early marriage in the chiefdom are rampant.
Joan Chipepo also a grade 11 pupil at the same school feels child marriages in Chamuka chiefdom will now be a thing of the past.
“It is a sad situation walking through the villages in the chiefdom because most of the mothers we have are either victims of early marriage or pregnancy. I am glad because my rights are protected,” she said.
And Mrs Akufo-Ado has congratulated Chief Chamuka for complimenting Government’s effort of fighting early marriage.
She expressed sadness that Zambia is still among countries that high early marriage in the world.
And First Lady Esther Lungu said all forms of violence against women must not be tolerated in the country.
Mrs Lungu said women have for a long time not participated in the country’s development agenda because of increased levels of violation of their rights.
And United Nations resident co-ordinator Janet Rogan said early marriages are a tragedy all over the world.
She said in 2015, more than 27,000 girls under the age of 18 were married off and the one out of every four women in the world were child brides.
“A girl is a future president, professor, business tycoon, a mining engineer and a First Lady, the value of a girl is the measure of the strength and maturity of a society,” Ms Rogan said.