By VIOLET MENGO
NOBEL Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Government for its efforts to end child marriage, which is prevalent in Zambia.
According to statistics, Zambia is ranked 16th in the world on the child marriage rating, as 42 percent of girls are married by the age of 18.
Speaking during a media briefing in Lusaka yesterday, Archbishop Tutu praised people working to prevent child marriage, including civil society organisations and traditional leaders.
â€œAs a grandfather, it pains me to hear the stories of girls who have married as children. The suffering of so many of Godâ€™s daughters brings me deep sorrow, but the spirit of the girls we have spoken to is indomitable.
â€œIt is encouraging to see that the government, civil society and traditional leaders have recognised that child marriage has a devastating impact on girls. I am impressed by the determination of people we have met who are working to bring an end to this scourge. But the challenge of child marriage remains pressing,â€ Archbishop Tutu said.
He said child marriage is a significant contributor to illiteracy because the girls that are married off almost always drop out of school.
Archbishop Tutu said maternal mortality is high because girls under 18 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or labour than women in their early 20s.
He also said gender-based violence is rampant for married girls, who are vulnerable to forced sex and domestic violence.
Archbishop Tutu is concerned thatÂ married girls are more likely to become infected with HIV unlike the unmarried girls of the same age.
â€œI urge all Zambians to build on the commitment you have shown and to do all that you can to provide girls with alternatives to marriage. We have seen that empowerment programmes can transform a girlâ€™s life, increasing her confidence and her ability to make choices about her own future,â€ Archbishop Tutu said.
He added: â€œWe need to make sure that education, health and other services are accessible and affordable, especially for adolescent girls.â€
He commended Government for launching a national campaign to end child marriage.
Archbishop Tutu said it is remarkable to meet traditional leaders who see the need to amend traditions that hold girls and their communities back.
â€œI am confident that we can end child marriage in one generation but we must work together. Everyone in Zambia has a role to play in ending this harmful practice by working in partnership,â€ he said.
Archbishop Tutu said Zambia has continued to be a great friend of South Africa during and after the struggle against apartheid.
â€œYou are a nation that has long loved freedom. by addressing child marriage, Zambia will ensure that the freedom of all its girl children takes its rightful place among the nations that are prosperous and progressive,â€ Archbishop Tutu said.
And `Girls not Bridesâ€™ chairperson Mable van Oranje said change is possible in Zambia to end child marriage.
â€œGirls not Brides and our members in Zambia will play our part in national efforts to end child marriage. At the same time we hope Zambia will continue to use its influence in the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to end child marriage worldwide,â€Â she said.
By VIOLET MENGO