Facing problem of early marriages

Pupils in class.

THE problem of irresponsible child marriages is a very serious and complex issue since it hinges on the moral fabric of our very existence as a nation. Sex drive is very strong in teenagers and sex is something very difficult to be reasonable about. Our ancestors were very much aware of it and hence they made sure that a boy and a girl should never be at close contact with each other and especially in isolation and hence the saying, “Cikwi tapalamana na mulilo’’ i.e., “Don’t put a petrol-soaked cloth near the flames of fire”.
It is, however, saddening to note that we as a nation, and to borrow Mwine mushi’s expression have not critically tried to dig the “root causes’’ of early marriages since we only look to the investors to solve all our problems. The only monotonous pronouncement that we daily hear from the crusaders against early marriages is: “the girls are being married off.’’ And by which they imply that parents “sell off their daughters’’ to anybody who can give them some cash.
It was reported that according to the Forum for African Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) about 16,300 school girls fall pregnant each year (Daily Nation 27th February 2017). If one follows this shallow and distorted reasoning, means that the parents “send-off’’ their children to commit adultery and thereby get pregnant. However, in our African cultures, if they get pregnant, then they automatically declare themselves ready for what I refer to as ‘’shot-gun marriages.’’ And in this case, we as un-sophiscated parents can no longer accept them back into our homes since it now becomes the responsibility of their ‘’husbands’’ to look after them. And so we ’’do not marry them off,’’ but they themselves “marry themselves off.’’
The first major problem is the abandonment of our rich African cultures for the western cultures through children’s rights and which includes, ‘’the liberalisation of sex.’’ And we are actually face-to-face with the bitter consequences of fleeing to what seemed the attractive sex restriction-free western cultures. In fact the then Secretary for African Affairs, R.S. Hudson, distressingly noted as early as 1930s that “when an African settled in town, he ultimately ceased to belong to a tribe and no longer fitted into the native authority system.’’ And other colonial officer Orde-Brown sadly wrote: “A disquieting feature of compounds of all kinds is the large juvenile population without occupation or control. Children and adolescents of all ages throng the vicinity, finding amusements as they can and devoid of training or teaching. In native villages this would not be the case, since almost all the tribes have very definite arrangements for training the young people according to their ideas.’’
It’s unfortunate that today many educated Zambian wrongly believe that their cultural heritage is derived from their education and conscious approximation to the western living standards. On the other hand, Dr Kaunda has a penetrating insight: ’’ …educational institutions turn out streams of technical, professional and scientific people required in central areas of national building…. yet the nation that lacks a firm cultural structure is jelly-built and though the people have title deeds to the property and the key to the front door in their pockets, they are still homeless.’’
We must also critically try to find answers to the fact that girls reach or attain ‘’womanhood’’ at the age of 13 years and in whatever culture as soon as they reach the stage of ‘’womanhood,’’ they are ready for marriage. However, the determination by the authorities at the age of marriage, for example 18 years in this country is only meant for the physical maturity of the girls. The difficulty arises especially in rural areas when they drop out of school, should they just be watching stars for five years until they attain the age of 18 to get married! In rural areas and unlike in urban areas there are no social amenities to keep both boys and girls at least somehow busy and a result the boys resort to heavy drinking of alcohol. When I visited Zwaziland (now Eswatini), I learned that girls in rural areas have sex experiences at the age of between 6 and 7 years while in urban areas, it was at the ages between 9 and 10 years.
And here is what Edna Kazonga wrote on sex education: “Sex education is very important in schools because it helps children understand their sexuality functionalities. Sex education helps our children to understand and respect the opposite sex for who they are by demystifying the sexual differences. A good curriculum on sex education should include the understanding of social relationships and development of good cultural norms leading to responsible young citizens who are able to exercise self-control as they assimilate the consequences of early sex. Clearly, sex education has nothing to do with encouraging pupils to have sex prematurely. With the help of a well-constructed lesson, teachers can help pupils to understand the consequences of early sex and appreciate the concept of abstinence or ‘chastity education’.’’ (Daily Nation 18th July 2017).
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