ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Mongu
EARLY and forced marriages, undoubtedly, rob girls of their childhood. This leaves emotional trauma on the victims who are too young to be in such a union.
In most parts of Africa, and Zambia in particular, the practice is still rampant in rural areas as it is perceived to be a norm.
Nalolo district in Western Province is also one of the areas where the practice exists.
However, with the coming of the One-Stop Gender Centre in Muoyo of Nalolo district, the vice is slowly being reduced.
The centre, which was opened in November 2015 by then minister of Gender Nkandu Luo, has seen four girls, aged between 14 and 18, being rescued from forced marriages.
The victims, who underwent counselling, have since gone back to school to continue with their education while their parents have been reprimanded.
Centre chairperson Malimba Mwiya explained that the girls who are from the remote part of the district were married off by parents against their will, in exchange for money, early this year.
Mr Mwiya said the centre managed to rescue the girls from the marriages in collaboration with the school administration where the girls attended primary and secondary education.
This was after concerned members of the community reported the matter.
â€˜â€™We can happily say that the girls are now back in school and living their dream of attaining a good education. We also check on them from time to time to see how they are doing, so far so good,â€™â€™ he says.
Mr Mwiya says the establishment of the centre has helped reduce the vice as most parents in the area know they risk being in conflict with the law if they force girls into marriage.
He says due to the overwhelming response that the centre is receiving, there are plans to open four other branches to reach out to women and children in the floodplains.
The areas that are targeted to have branches are Lwimba, Kataba, Wekisa and Musalonea.
He says the centre currently has 30 volunteers consisting of both the young and old.
â€œWe currently conduct door-to-door sensitisation, which is however proving to be difficult because of the geographical locality of the district. So, the branches will go a long way in reaching every household,â€™â€™ he says.
On child labour, the centre has from February this year to date helped seven children aged between five and nine.
Most of the children are being abused by their parents, who still have a notion that no one has a right to question them for subjecting their children to child labour.
There needs to be a lot of sensitisation discouraging the practice.
Like in the case of early marriages, the centre also played a vital role to counsel the parents who were found wanting.
â€œWe seem to have a big problem where child labour is concerned, and more needs to be done by ourselves and the rest of the community to change peopleâ€™s mindset,â€™â€™ Mr Mwiya says.
Apart from issues relating to early marriages and child labour, the centre also deals with matters of gender-based violence (GBV).
Like in many other communities, Nalolo has also not been spared from GBV, with the majority victims being women.
From the time the centre was opened, it has received over 30 cases of GBV, with some cases being reported to police.
Mr Mwiya says the centre has managed to reconcile a number of couples after counselling them.
â€œWomen are now opening up because they are aware of the existence of the centre, where they can come and seek help,â€™â€™ he said.
Mr Mwiya says in the past, cases of GBV were only dealt with by village headmen, who are still actively involved as the centre works in collaboration with the traditional leaders.
However, the centre needs a financial boost with Mr Mwiya calling on the Ministry of Gender to consider the organisationâ€™s plight.
He says despite the financial constraints, the centre runs a pre-school with 40 pupils.
And one of the female councillors, Mabelo Kakwete, says the women are grateful to Government for setting up the centre in Nalolo.
Ms Kakwete, who is also a volunteer at the centre, said the institution is a relief to women and girls as they have a place to seek refuge from.
Ms Kakweteâ€™s commitment cannot be overemphasised as she treks five hours from her home to the centre with the hope of seeing Nalolo a better place for women and children.
ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Mongu