Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
OUR members of Parliament have done a commendable thing by adopting a motion that will culminate into Zambia legislating against child marriage.
When the proposed law is enacted, perhaps we will have a good number of girls attending school until completion stage. In simple words, the proposed law will make child marriage a criminal offence.
Any man who will marry a child, whether or not with consent of the girlâ€™s family, will be culpable by law and prosecuted in the courts of law. Our police officers, obviously if given a tip-off by members of the public, will effect arrests of the culprits and bring them before the courts of law.
Although details of the proposed law have not been availed yet, I am sure defiant men and parents will be fined or jailed for marrying children below the age of 18.
And what makes this development interesting is that the Ministry of Gender and Child Development is in the process of drafting a â€œchild marriage billâ€ which will push the minimum age for marriage to 21. Gender Minister, Professor Nkandu Luo told Parliament when winding up debate on the motion: â€˜legislate against child marriages.â€™
Backed by criminalisation of child marriage, members of the community will assume responsibility to report to law enforcers erring parents and suitors who will deprive children of the right to education.
Thumbs up to our MPs for efforts in championing equal access to girlsâ€™ education. Right now, child marriages and teen pregnancies pose the biggest challenge to improving girlsâ€™ educational attainment. Apparently, there is no problem with most parents nowadays in taking their children to school. The challenge right now is on girls remaining in school until completion stage. This is the reason why the numbers of girls in school begin to dwindle at upper primary education level, and this trend continues at basic and high school levels.
At tertiary level, the problem is more pronounced and this explains the low levels of skills attainment among women, and their unequal representation in economic spheres and positions of influence. The feminisation of poverty also comes about mainly due to womenâ€™s unequal access to education services compared to their male counterparts.
And child marriages as well as adolescent pregnancies involving school girls, are at the centre of the low educational attainments of girls and women.
Statistics released by the Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education, Michael Kaingu recently, indicate that 16,000 girls dropped out of school last year due to pregnancies and child marriages. And of these girls, about 13,250 of them were below the age of 18 or at primary education level.
In addition, latest statistics indicate that about 42 percent of women in Zambia in the age group of 20 to 24, marry at the age of 18.
Given this scenario, having a law that forbids child marriage will reinforce societyâ€™s affirmation of girlsâ€™ education.
And in the long-term, the negative cultural practices that promote marriage at the expense of childrenâ€™s education will gradually begin dying down. The campaign for the advancement of girlsâ€™ education will gain momentum especially in rural communities where marriage has become an ambition for girls because thatâ€™s what everyone is doing.
Some girls in these communities are driven by the desire to marry, and going to school is something that they casually do, as they wait for puberty.
Education life ends at puberty for most girls, and the next thing after this life phase is either marriage or pregnancy. Sadly, parents are usually culprits in arranging marriages for their children, sometimes with â€˜oldâ€™ or men who are already married.
The young wife comes in as a pawn to fulfil certain roles that the manâ€™s other wife/wives cannot play.
If you think of it critically, marriage is not meant for children. A child should be allowed to be a child; enjoy childhood and grow up.
There is time for everything in life, and childhood is a very important phase of oneâ€™s life. Children must be allowed to enjoy their childhood and grow up physically, mentally and intellectually.
A child will think like a child, act like one, and react like a child because thatâ€™s who they are. Putting them in marriage and giving responsibilities they are not ready to shoulder, will not make them adults.
This is the reason why children are more likely to succumb to sexual, emotional and physical abuse by their adult spouses.
Its sheer abuse of a child and the worst part of early marriage is that it robs the victim of an opportunity for a better tomorrow. Itâ€™s during childhood that one cultivates a better tomorrow, with the help of parents, guardians and other parental figures in the community.
What one will become in adulthood, depends on how they spend their childhood, and what their parents invested into their future.
Of paramount importance is the investment into a childâ€™s education. In addition to a stable family, education is the best gift that parents can give to their children. If given good education, you can be rest assured that your children will be able to stand on their own feet in future. Girls will not have to seek economic security in marriage. If they marry, they should marry for love, otherwise they would be abused.
I hope the proposed law will be comprehensive in nature and provide proper implementation guidelines for ending child marriage. For instance, it will be difficult to end child marriage if negative cultural practices such as puberty rites are allowed to continue.
These add no value to girlsâ€™ lives because in most traditions, itâ€™s during initiation ceremonies that girls are taught how to handle a man in bed.
There is no need to confine a girl when she reaches puberty and teach her things that will initiate her into pre-marital sex. In this era, all a girl needs at puberty, is counselling on personal hygiene and â€˜constructiveâ€™ sex education. And this does not require confinement of girls and preventing them from attending school. This is simple counselling that any parent/guardian can do without hiring alangizi.
In other words, criminalising child marriage is not enough to end this scourge.
Law enforcers will need to elicit the support of tradition leaders in the implementation process because child marriage is embedded in negative cultural practices.
As custodians of traditional norms and values, chiefs can play a critical role in changing mindsets and behaviours.
In a nutshell, the proposed law is good and with every stakeholder playing their part, we can win.
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA