MALUMO SILUMESI, Kabwe
ZAMBIA has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with statistics indicating that 42 percent of women aged between 20 to 24 years marry by the age of 18.
This shows that child marriage is a source of concern and violates the fundamental rights of victims of the vice.
Poverty, social norms, customary and religious practices and in some cases inadequate legislative framework are among factors blamed for child marriages.
As a result of poverty, parents withdraw their daughters from school and marry them off, sometimes to older men for monetary gain.
The practice of child marriage is widespread in rural areas where poverty levels are higher.
Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development as it results into early pregnancy, risks to health, poverty and interruption of education which limits her opportunities for career and vocational advancement.
Without education, victims of child marriage are at risk of becoming victims of gender-based violence such as wife battering.
Child marriage affects boys, but to a lesser degree.
In Central Province, Mkushi is one of the districts recording an increase in cases of child marriage, affecting both girls and boys.
This year, 33 girls, some of them as young as 13, have been withdrawn from marriages and taken back to school.
This state of affairs has unsettled Mkushi district commissioner Luka Mwamba who wants a lasting solution to the problem.
“I took it upon myself to remove young girls from marriages. Some girls are about 13 years old, and it is disheartening to see that parents are in the forefront of marrying off these young girls,” Mr Mwamba said.
Mr Mwamba said parents should realise that marrying underage children is wrong because they are not ready for the responsibilities of taking care of a spouse and child bearing.
He says the practice of withdrawing girls from school in preference for marriage should not be condoned.
Mr Mwamba is engaging chiefs Chitina, Mulungwe and Shaibila to provide leadership in their respective chiefdoms in the fight against early marriage.
He is happy that traditional leaders are willing to join the campaign and eradicate the practice in Mkushi district.
“Let me take this opportunity to say that we will win this fight,” Mr Mwamba said. “We cannot allow illicit activities to continue in the district.”
Mr Mwamba said some of the victims of child marriage have returned to school with the support of social welfare.
Mr Mwamba warned parents in Mkushi against practicing early marriages as it is unlawful.
“My appeal to parents who are marrying off young girls is that they should desist from doing that. We shall not take it kindly to those who will be found waiting,” he said.
Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL) Central Province chairperson Rebecca Mseteka says early marriage is a bad practice.
“Many young girls are forced to marry because of poverty especially in the rural areas like Mkushi,” Ms Mseteka said.
She said it is disheartening to see girls as young as 13 become wives because some parents want to transfer the burden of looking after children to other people.
Ms Mseteka said the campaign against child marriage was a noble one because it hinges on safeguarding the lives of children.
She said Government and other stakeholders need to intensify the fight and collaborate their efforts.
“I have interacted with some parents in the rural areas and the reason they give us is that they cannot afford to pay for their children to continue schooling, so it’s better to get them married,” Ms Mseteka says.
Child brides are also at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.
Women Housing Africa executive director Juliet Kawanda shares that in Kapiri Mposhi is a case of a 17-year-old girl who contracted HIV recently after her mother got her married.
“If parents did not marry off this young girl, she wouldn’t have gotten infected. Now, her life is in danger,” she said.
Ms Kawanda said her organisation has since withdrawn the girl from the marriage with the intention of taking her back to school.
She however, feels strides have been made in the fight against child and early marriages and that remains is to strengthen the law and seal loopholes to eradicate the scourge.
MALUMO SILUMESI, Kabwe