Columnists Features

Grappling with child marriages

THERE are many cases of child marriages that take place in Nakonde district without the knowledge of relevant authorities. This vice has forced many girls to drop out of school.

PAMELA CHILO, Nakonde
RECENTLY, World Vision in Nakonde in Muchinga Province reported a case in which a 13-year-old grade six pupil at Mukalize Primary School had been married off by her parents.
This story touched many people in Nakonde, and district education board secretary (DEBS) Stanley Mwambazi confirmed that school authorities had reported the matter to his office.
Police under the Victim Support Unit (VSU) and other stakeholders such as World Vision keenly followed up the illegal union of two juveniles.
In just a few days, all those who were involved in the arrangement of the child marriage were rounded up and apprehended, and the 13-year-old bride was retrieved from the forced marriage.
Further investigations into the matter established that the girl was married off to a 17-year-old boy. The police found the two children living in a simple hut, with no blankets at all. What were available to protect the ‘couple’ from the cold nights were chitenge materials only.
Mr Francis Mukuka from the VSU said he found the juveniles sleeping on a reed mat as they did not even have a simple mattress.
Traditionally, the girl’s parents, Mr and Mrs Nakolongo, saw nothing wrong with what they did when they married off their little daughter to a fellow juvenile.
In the Namwanga tradition, once a man buys a hoe, a chitenge material, a goat and containers of a traditional drink locally known as munkoyo, and takes them to the parents of the woman he intends to marry, he is immediately given the right to take his bride as such items are treated as dowry.
According to page 76 of a book written by Lillian Mushota dubbed Family Law in Zambia, Cases and Materials, there is no specific age for marriage under customary law.
A girl is considered capable of getting married at puberty, although some ethnic groups allow a longer period for a girl to be more mature.
On the other hand, a boy is generally considered to be ready for marriage once he grows a beard and shows ability to do work that can support a wife and a family.
The book further states that parental consent is considered important particularly because the girl is of a tender age and with no experience that can enable her understand the nature of marriage.
Ms Mushota explains in her book that payments are an essential aspect of a valid marriage in traditional set-ups. Hence, acceptance of the payments by the girl’s or woman’s parents signifies their consent. The marriage payments are done in many ways and they vary from one ethnic group to another.
And this is exactly what the 17- year- old boy of Nakonde had done and was accordingly given his 13-year-old bride.
Sadly, there is a contradiction between customary and civil laws in that under the latter, it is a crime to marry a girl below the age of 16 as this is considered to be defilement.
In the case of the two Nakonde juveniles, school authorities, through the DEBS’ office, managed to convince the girl and her parents to get her back to school after medical check-ups revealed that she was not yet pregnant.
This is just one of the many child marriage stories that the media and relevant authorities in Nakonde managed to get hold of and saved the girl from getting married at a tender age.
There are many cases of child marriages that take place in the district without the knowledge of relevant authorities.
In most rural parts of Nakonde, school authorities, especially headteachers, are sometimes threatened by parents who marry off their young children whenever there is an attempt to report such cases to the police.
At Mukalize Primary School for instance early last year, some parents threatened to manhandle teachers who were trying to report cases of child marriages to the police.
It took Chieftainess Nawaitwika of the Namwanga people to warn parents against marrying off their girl children for the teachers to survive lynching.
The traditional ruler has always been an ardent ambassador against child marriages in her chiefdom.
Recently, Chieftainess Nawaitwika and Chieftainess Mweenda of the Tonga people of Chikankata district in Southern Province pledged to work hand in hand to help fight child marriages in their chiefdoms.
The two traditional leaders made the pledge when Chieftainess Mweenda visited Nakonde district to attend the Mutomolo traditional ceremony of the Namwanga people.
Both traditional leaders pledged to work together and share ideas to ensure that there are no child marriages in their areas.
For child marriages to be reduced or even halted in Nakonde, there is need for intensified sensitisation in schools, among girl children and parents, especially in the villages.
The parents need to be educated about the dangers that come with marrying off their girl children at tender ages.                           ZANIS

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