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EMELDA Musonda.

Rural girls need role models, mentorship

THE story of a 14-year-old girl of Choma who walked about 40 kilometres in the night to go and get married to her 23-year-old lover made very sad reading.
At a time that the country is trying to recover from shocking statistics indicating that about 24,731 girls dropped out school in Eastern Province due to teen pregnancies, such news only adds salt to the injury.
It is disheartening that the 14-year-old girl who wrote her Grade Seven examination last year at Patasi Primary School and made it to Grade Eight on second selection, is insisting that she wants marriage and not school.
Last week, the minor walked from her parents’ home in Patasi village to go and get married to Regan Simufwi, a farmer of Masopo village, where she arrived around 23:30 hours.
Her father, Dennis Siamaundu, a Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) field officer, said this was the second time his daughter left home to live with Simufwi.
“In December last year, she ran away and we came here [Maposo village] to pick her, but again last week she left home saying she had gone to collect her Grade Seven results but she never returned,” he said.
It is not only inexplicable but devastating that while many girls have been caught in the net of early marriage by force, this particular 14-year-old has demonstrated an unprecedented strong will to hand herself into marriage.
If this teenager could walk 40km at night for marriage, I am left to wonder if there is anything she cannot do for marriage.
By walking such a distance, and at night, which is very dangerous because she could have been attacked by either animals or criminals, she has demonstrated that she is ready to lay her life if that’s what it takes to get married.
This sadly brings to the fore the values system to which the girl has been exposed to.
It is certain from what she has been exposed to so far that marriage is the best thing that could happen to her, nothing more and nothing less.
At her age she cannot convince anyone that she understands the responsibilities that come with marriage.
At 14 she cannot take care of herself. How then can she take care of a family because she is a child herself who needs to be taken care of?
The act by the girl also reveals low self-esteem. It is clear in the mind of this girl she needs marriage to enhance her value, hence the sacrifice to the extent of risking her life.
Sadly there are many other rural girls in particular in the same situation.
The case of the 14-year-old girl insisting on marriage is a serious call for mentorship and role models in rural areas.
Unlike girls in urban areas who may be exposed to role models and success stories in diverse disciplines, girls in the village in most cases will be exposed to a struggling teacher, farmer and traditional leaders as role models.
The environment in which they are socialised does not inspire them to attain greater heights of success.
For them marriage is the highest level of achievement and hence the ultimate goal.
Unfortunately even the concept of marriage they hold is one that enslaves them to a second-class being.
There is certainly need for stakeholders like families, community, schools, Church, corporate world, civil society and the government to work together to find lasting solutions to child marriages which are threatening our future generation.
According to statistics, Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31 percent of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18.
Unfortunately these rates seem to be higher in rural areas. This is indicative of the low exposure to success stories.
There are a number of mentorship programmes that have come up, but unfortunately most of these are targeted at urban girls in schools, universities and those in early career stages.
It is, however, commendable that Stanbic, in collaboration with Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA), has since 2010 been running a mentorship programme targeting schoolgirls from rural areas.
Such initiatives should be supported and emulated by many other stakeholders to cater for more rural girls. Such programmes expose girls to role models beyond their limited environment.
This will help to positively shape the mindset of girls like the 14-year-old, who considers marriage as an ultimate goal.
Taking the girl in question to a boarding school as suggested by some stakeholders is not a solution as long as her mindset is not reengineered.
The girl needs to be brought to a level where she will appreciate and prioritise education and self-development.
Besides mentorship by other stakeholders, parents as custodians play the foundational role of ensuring that their children are exposed to a strong value system at a tender age. The Bible in Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Parents play a critical role in setting a solid moral foundation for their children.
Schools must also go beyond just imparting knowledge to mentoring pupils.
The Church as custodians of Christian values should also up its game in entrenching Christian values. This is the only way they will be passed on to younger generations.
Society or the older generation cannot give what it does not have.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.