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Chief Chikwanda champion of girl-child rights

KONAYUMA

Analysis: JUDITH KONAYUMA
SINCE the fight against early marriages began, there has been a lot of talk to end it. While the momentum to fight early marriages has picked up, the rate at which school-going girls are being married off has also skyrocketed. There seems to be no winning formula.
Parents play a crucial role in the life of a child, whether a boy or a girl. There are some children who have faced challenges in school. But the input by their parents has helped them go further.
The prevalence of early marriages in Zambia is driven, to a large extent, by parents. While poverty is seen as the driving factor behind the marriages, parents have the power to stop the scourge despite the circumstances that surround them. After all, the initial plan for their girl child is to get an education, but some later begin to think that it is a waste of time.
The attraction of a few notes in form of dowry makes them change their mind over the education of the girl child, especially in rural areas. They begin to think marriage is the only way out of their poverty.
The practice is rife in rural parts of the country, where girls have little or no role models to give them the drive to get to higher educational heights.
Only a few of them are able to overcome the odds and eventually make a living for themselves. But these are only the determined ones who seek to once and for all, break the cycle of poverty.
The long distances girls cover to get to schools is another factor that may discourage girls from continuing with their education. Against such odds, some girls opt to give up and the alternative may be marriage at a tender age.
The fight against early marriages, therefore, becomes a protracted one because the enemy is not outside, but inside the camp, the parents and some community leaders.
The call to parents to help end the scourge has gone unheeded. Day in and day out, young girls become brides, notwithstanding their inexperience.
After all, it is believed they will ripen as they go on in their marriages. A number of them end up being miserable and wishing they had not left school, though they had no choice in the matter.
With time, the call to end early marriages has been widened to include key people like politicians and traditional leaders, as those that watch over their subjects.
Traditional leaders, in particular, are close to the people and whatever they say becomes ‘law’ for their subjects. They can swiftly deal with erring subjects, ensuring that punishment is meted out accordingly.
As leaders, traditional chiefs are fully aware of the importance of having an educated cadre of subjects. Education, by its nature, brings about a better life and every leader wants to see this for his subjects.
This is why their involvement in ending early marriages is cardinal. They play a key role by virtue of their position in a chiefdom. Any news of crimes committed in the chiefdom will reach them and they will take action.
The nation has another champion in Chief Chikwanda of Mpika district in Muchinga Province.
The chief has taken a hard stance by firing seven of his headmen who he found not to be involved in the fight against early marriages.
In fact, the headmen are alleged to have connived with some families to marry off young girls. In an effort to stem the vice, Chief Chikwanda has introduced a form, which among other things, stipulates the age a girl should get married.
The chief has adopted 21 as the age for a girl to be married. At that age, a girl is mature enough to make decisions and at least she would have gone a long way in school (if she has not finished by that age).
This is the kind of protection that girls need. For him, if male headmen fail in this duty, they are replaced by females, as a way of increasing gender equality.
Now, this is being decisive about fighting early marriages. The country needs more of such leaders who want to be counted among those who abhor the practice.
We have seen that mere talk will not save the girl child. Action and decisive action will help bring down the number of girls being married off. In fact that action should start from the parents who have a bigger role to play to save their young girls from getting married.
But if parents break the law and marry off their children, leaders like Chief Chikwanda will not spare them. The chief has shown leadership in the fight against early marriage and it is incumbent upon other leaders to do the same.
This vice occurs at community level and this is where action should be taken. We have seen how, in cases of defilement, measures to step it have failed because relatives connive amongst themselves to defeat the legal establishments involved in the fight.
The author is Sunday Mail Editor.

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