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Effect of child marriages on national development

THE World Bank and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) in Washington, USA, have just released the 2017 report on Child

Marriages entitled ‘Economic Impacts of Child Marriage’ and have cited 25 countries in the world where this scourge is highly prevalent to unacceptable international standards and unfortunately Zambia amongst these countries.
Out of the 25 countries cited in this report, 13 are in Africa, three are in southern Africa, Zambia together with our neighbours Malawi and Mozambique and one in East Africa, Uganda.
Africa south of the Equator therefore has only four countries.
According to this report, in the past 30 years, the prevalence of child marriage defined as marriage or union before the age of 18 around the world has decreased in many countries, but it still remains far too high and unacceptable in the 25 countries cited in this report.
Detailed research and analysis were conducted in these countries and the findings indicate that at least one in three women marry before the age of 18, and one in five women have their first child before the age of 18.
The report goes on to say that child marriage will cost these developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030 because child brides are robbed of their rights to safety, security, health, education and the right and ability to make their own life choices and decisions and governments bear the burden.
The report also goes on to say that ending child marriage in these 25 countries would have a large positive effect on the educational attainment of girls, increase women’s expected earnings and household welfare, lead to substantial reductions in population growth over time, reduce rates of under-five mortality and delayed physical development due to a lack of appropriate nutrition, contribute to women having fewer children later in life, and increase women’s life expectancy.
This report funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education goes on to say that budget savings would be reaped by governments in the cost of providing basic education, health, and other services due to lower population growth if child marriages are brought to an end.
The report also confirms what local Zambian education experts have been advocating that keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to avoid child marriage.
Each year of primary or secondary education reduces the likelihood of a girl marrying as a child before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more. Child brides are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later, it affects health and even the health of their children.
Findings in this report clearly show that this issue of child marriages has not been aggressively confronted in Zambia. Where are the organisations such as the Law Association of Zambia, Non-Governmental Organisations, the Church and traditional leaders who deal with the communities and are in a better position to aggressively confront this issue at grassroot level and lobby the government of the day to enact legislation that can bring this scourge to a conclusive end.
This is a clear indication that too much time in Zambia is being spent by these institutions politicking and confronting the government of the day and pursuing misplaced political agenda instead of working and positively contributing to the welfare of the ordinary Zambians.
With this kind of report, how will Zambia as a country realise the Vision 2030 and successfully implement the Seventh National Development Plan when an inherent problem working against all these national plans is already prevailing in the communities and the nation?
This report on child marriages should cause all well-meaning national institutions and ordinary Zambians to reflect that may be the nation is spending too much time and energy on illusive national problems and leaving the real critical issues facing the nation unattended.
One arrives at this conclusion because what explanation can one give that Zambia can be faced with this critical problem of child marriage while the majority of other African countries have found a solution including six of our neighbouring countries. Surely what have these countries around us done to end this scourge which cannot be replicated in our country?
Quentin Wodon, the World Bank’s project director and co-author of the report ‘Economic Impacts of Child Marriage’, says, “Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams. It also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity.
Ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do.”
Time has come for all Zambians to do what is morally right to end this disaster and not just demand for action from politicians and the government of the day for the sake of national growth.
The author is an international associate at the African Centre for Disaster Studies.