NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone
ZAMBIA has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 42 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 years married by the age of 18.Owing to the above facts, early child marriage has currently become a vital topic of discussion amongst several development platforms which has made it more visible to many that were unaware of its existence.
Recently, First Lady Esther Lungu at the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) summit highlighted that the scenario of early marriages and pregnancies had become worrisome and that as first ladies, their goal was to try and find ways to eliminate or reduce early marriages and teen pregnancies.
At present, Zambia is ranked 16th amongst countries with the highest rate of child marriage in the world and although the Marriage Act establishes a legal age for marriage, and the Penal Code makes sex with a girl under 16 an offence in Zambia, these provisions rarely apply in customary law.
And as the local proverb goes: “One finger cannot crush a louse”. There is indeed strength in numbers.
This proverb holds true in the fight against early or forced marriage.
The future of most girls is threatened by early or forced marriage, making it a national concern, bringing many organisations and people on board, all in an effort to mitigate it.
Twenty-five-year-old Genious Musokotwane has jumped on board to dedicate his time to fighting the vice.
This reporter caught up with the energetic young man who at his age is executive director for the Musokotwane Compassion Mission Zambia (MCMZ), a Choma-based nonprofit and youth led organisation that frontiers the fight against child marriages.
Not only that, his organisation which has on a number of occasions retrieved many girls from child and forced marriages in Choma and surrounding areas has also been ensuring that it meets their needs.
Asked who Genious Musokotwane is, he answers, “I am just a simple Zambian life transformation servant driven leader.”
Born in Kalomo, back in 1992, Musokotwane was raised by a single parent, a thing that motivated him to found MCMZ.
“I grew up to know that I was a solution to my community,” he says. “When my mother died I was 10 years old, I went to live in the village and my time at the village as a young boy birthed my passion to bring about positive change.”
At the age of 14, an opportunity availed itself for him to attend a boy’s camp under Peace Corps as a volunteer.
“At the end of the camp, we were all asked to take a quiet moment and reflect on things we would love to change in our communities,” he says. “It was at this point that the early child marriage problem resurfaced. It was in the same year that the 2007 Demographic Health Survey on Zambia was released and it indicated that half of Zambian women were married before the age of 18 years.”
Out of his passion, Musokotwane, then aged 15, engaged Chief Chikanta of Kalomo district and Chief Cooma of Choma district and shared with them his ideas on the best practices of ending early, forced and child marriages in their chiefdoms.
And this was the birth of MCMZ.
Today, his organisation, MCMZ is a member of the Girls Not Brides global partnership on ending child marriages worldwide. It is also an approved Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) in Zambia.
Asked what it was like setting up MCMZ, Musokotwane says it was challenging at first, but has no regrets now.
“But I believed in myself, I understood God had called me to this and I never expected a smooth path. With this view in mind, it made everything easy. Also, Chief Chikanta and Chief Cooma supported me with what I needed and knowing that I had such traditional leaders behind me,” he adds.
He says child marriage has been a traditional practice that has escalated now because of poverty levels.
He recalls how while in primary school, a school mate got married off and later lost her life during child birth. Up to now, it still hurts him that his late schoolmate had no one to stand for her.
“If someone stood for her not to be married off, she probably would still be alive today,” he says.
The impact is not just on society and the retrieved girls. It has also had an impact on him.
He says: “Serving as a lead servant at MCMZ has made me realise that we are all tools in God’s hands. The opportunity has changed my view of success as not the acquisition of fame, material things or money but by how our actions, lifestyle and character bring the kingdom of heaven to those in distress.”
He adds: “The privilege to serve under this organisation has made me have a global view on how best we can improve our communities and the country’s social and economic development for all.”
MCMZ retrieves girls from child marriages and provides them with shelter, basic needs, and education support through a school sponsorship program.
“MCMZ work improves the protection, health and education chances for girls, and widens their economic opportunities in society,” he says.
He adds that improved economic opportunities for families in rural areas are key in the fight against the vice.
“Since inception, we have been dealing with 20 cases on average, annually. We need to abolish all those traditional practices that impede the development of young girls,” he says.
To keep afloat, the organisation has some income generating activities such as farming, beverage brewing and supply, fundraising galas and musical concerts, crowd funding and individual donors.
He says a number of prominent private and public schools in the district have partnered with his organisation to offer scholarships to the 15 girls under its auspices and care.
It operates within four thematic areas, namely, advocacy, capacity building, child protection, and education support.
He wishes to construct a school for his organisation at a farm donated to MCMZ by Chief Cooma, somewhere on the outskirts of Choma town.
Musokotwane who has earned himself a name for his actions and contribution to society advises parents to desist from sending their children into early marriage.
He studied public relations at Evelyn Hone College and also spent some years in South Africa studying Missions and Leadership and while there, worked for a number of charitable organisations.
“I also managed to raise funds for our organisation MCMZ back in Zambia which I had left in the hands of a friend I met in 2008 during one of our outreach programmes at Choma secondary school,” he says.
What was just an idea 10 years ago is a reality now.
NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone