Gender Life and Style

Early marriage will affect women representation

The scourge of early marriages has become a thorny issue in Zambia, It is not an overstatement to assert that girls are dropping out of school every day, abandoning their books in preference for a life partner. Guest columist JUDITH KONAYUMA looks at the impact this trend has on the empowerment of women.
YES, whether they prefer it or not, the rate at which girls abandon school has reached alarming proportions.  At such levels, there is cause to be concerned as individuals who care for the future generation, especially for girls, who should take over when our lot is gone.
I shudder to imagine what the country will be like to have less female representation in key positions.  This is certainly not ideal but picture a situation where girls are married off early and denied a chance to become someone in life. We will have ourselves to blame.
The fight against early and child marriages, therefore calls for stringent measures because the need to arrest it arose yesterday and not today. However, there is no need to despair because it is not too late.
The scourge may seemingly be unnoticed in urban areas where a number of children may be self-motivated. Rural areas form the vast battlegrounds where parents, with their cohorts, the older men, who in most cases marry the children, intensify the fight.
Parents, at the attraction of a few Kwachas, and a few indeed and some animals, in some cases, easily extend their arms to withdraw their girl from school and the following day the poor girl is someone’s wife.
Instantly, the poor girl’s future would have been shattered and the seemingly accrued benefits to the parents do not last forever. The parents will get back to their earlier status and thoughts of withdrawing another of their daughters from school begin to pervade their minds.
For now, it has become punishable for parents to marry off their children. But what about the poor girl who may have no say? How do we expect her to defend herself from the schemes of her parents? Is there anything to spur her and help her put up a defence?
It is common knowledge that children in rural areas lack role models. They have no one they can look up to and be inspired. At least, for most of the time.
The commonest occupations prevalent in rural areas are nursing and teaching. The children interact with the teachers at school and they see the nurses when they are sick and get to a health centre.  Doctors are still rare for most rural children.
These two professions do not offer them much choice when it comes to making decisions for their future. Children begin to choose what they want to be from an early age. Sometimes we call such choices dreams. These dreams are buoyed and eventually consolidated by the amount of choice a child is exposed to.
Give the child limited choice and their horizon will be narrow. Conversely, a child who is exposed to a wider choice is able to make an informed decision. Is this not true for everyone?
This absence of role models in the rural areas is one of the factors leading to their falling out of school in preference for marriage. Despite knowing the benefits of education, their interest would only be to know how to read and write.
Of course, there are some girls who have “cum laud” from the rural schools. A number of our mothers went to rural schools and were able to make it, with some earning great titles to their names.
However, the disconnect between girls and role models, coupled with other factors, disadvantages girls. Even if girls have to report the cases of early or child marriage, their resolve would be weightier if it is fortified by the knowledge that one goes to school so that she can become a doctor one day.
As it is now, their world is limited and the teacher or the nurse, at the most, occupies most of their dream world. This is not to say that the teacher is despised, but to show that the girls’ world is narrow due to the limited choice. I salute the teachers and nurses who have contributed immensely to the development of our country. The have indeed, done a great job.
But the girl- child in the rural area needs to see other professionals and be more motivated. When a child says she wants to be an engineer, it is because she can see someone who is an engineer. The urge to become another engineer is motivated by the fact that if the other has made it, she can also make it.
The author is Saturday Mail Editor.
Remember, children are our future, until next week, take care.;

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