MUMBA MWANSA, MILENGE
EMELIA, 12, stopped school when she was impregnanted in Grade Two, in 2016.
Now she has no intentions of going back to school because she feels it is of no importance to her.
The young mother of Lungomukuta in Milenge district, has a one-year-old baby strapped on her back.
She says the baby’s father lives in another village and he has no intentions of marrying her, thereby leaving the burden of fending for the baby entirely on her.
In order to have a decent life, Emelia, who lives with her parents, says she goes in the field to cultivate cassava, maize and groundnuts so she could provide for her child.
Another touching story is that of Bwale Kazembe, a 16-year-old married girl of Samfya district.
“In 2016, I fell pregnant and unfortunately I lost my baby. This year again, I fell pregnant and praise be to God, I delivered a set of twins,” says Bwale.
She says she dropped out of school when she was in Grade Seven and has no intentions of re-enrolling into school.
Her husband, who is in his early 20s, does not have a sustainable income to fend for the family as he does not have a job.
“We got married last year, before I fell pregnant. I agreed to get married to my husband because that was what I wanted. My husband does not have a job but he does some farming to help sustain us,” says a visibly shy Bwale, said as she lovingly rocked one of her newly-born babies to sleep.
Yvette Kasongo’s experience is one of the many cases of child marriages in Milenge district.
Yvette, 20, has been married to Lewis Kasongo for three years and they have a two-year-old daughter together.
Lewis, who is in his mid-20s, says he is happy that he married Yvette as she takes care of him and their daughter. However, he says he will work on ensuring that their child gets educated.
“Education is important and I would like to encourage others to do so. If my wife is willing to go back to school, I would allow her to do so. When a woman is educated, she is more capable of taking good care of her family and parents,” says an unconvincing Lewis while shying away from the interview.
He says being married is a good feeling and he does not find anything negative about it.
Sixteen-year-old Sabina Mpundu, an expectant mother of Lungomukuta in Milenge district, says she quit school in Grade Seven due to absence of a secondary school in the area.
“We lack secondary schools here. So, normally when one goes to schools in places like Milenge or Chembe, they fail to complete their education as they lack so many resources to sustain their stay away from home. Our parents cannot afford to support us.
“We have to walk very long distances to schools and during the rainy season, we cannot attend school as our area is completely cut off due to floods,” she says.
However, Sabrina, whose baby’s father is still in school in Chembe, says she is still determined to go to school and plans on re-enrolling herself as soon as she delivers and the baby is old enough to remain at home with her parents.
“It is normal practice here to stop going to school in Grades Six or Seven because of lack of secondary schools. What happens here in Lungomukuta after one reaches Grade Seven, is that we get married and start bearing children. Here, there are very few girls who get educated even up to Grade Nine,” says Sabrina.
Unlike Sabrina, 16-year-old Christina Chisanga, also of Lungomukuta, says she was a dull pupil and failed her Grade Seven examinations last year and she has no plans of rewriting.
Hence, she got married to a man from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Agness Mwansa, an elderly woman of Mupita camp in Milenge, says early and child marriages are rampant in the district because the girls fail to take good care of themselves.
“When we send these girls to boarding schools, they normally end up returning home with a pregnancy. In such a case, we as parents encourage the girls to stay away from school and look after their babies.
“In some cases, the girl-child will marry herself off to the man who has impregnated her. This becomes difficult to withdraw her as the girl is willing to be married,” she explained.
Ms Mwansa said the groom’s parents, in many cases, prefer allowing their son to marry the pregnant girl and pay bride price as opposed to paying for damages.
Lungomukuta is about 90 kilometres from Chembe and about 130 kilometres from Milenge Boma. It is the poorest area in Zambia with poverty at 90 percent. The area has no road network.
Luapula province Permanent Secretary Buleti Nsemukila says Lungomukuta is the least developed area in the country and has a high record of child marriages.
“I am a statistician and I can confirm that the poverty levels here stand at 90 percent, while child marriages are at 71 percent. Normally, when the girls reach the ages of 14 or 15, they are married off due to lack of schools,” says Dr Nsemukila, during a tour of Lungomukuta in Milenge district.
During a mentorship session of the girl child at Lungomukuta Basic School in Milenge, First Lady Esther Lungu encouraged the girls to consider taking education seriously as it will be a contributing factor to having development in their area as well as the country.
“Once you get an education, you will have the privilege to become First Lady, like me, or even attain better leadership positions,” Mrs Lungu said.
The First Lady has pledged to support all the girls in Lungomukuta who will qualify to Grade Eight next year, by taking them to good secondary schools away from their homes.
The rate of child and early marriages in Milenge is a part of the bigger picture of the high levels of the scourge that Zambia is grappling with and decisive action has to be taken now to save the girl-child.
MUMBA MWANSA, MILENGE