Gender Gender Kid's Corner

Ugly face of early marriage

“MY FATHER used poverty as an excuse to marry me off. He thought that by doing so he would be reducing on the burden of taking care of the family. Little did he know that he was subjecting me to a life of violence,” laments 19-year-old Rabecca Mundia (not real name).
About a third of girls in developing countries are married before the age of 18 years and one in nine is married before the age of 15 years.
In 2010, 67 million women between the ages 20 and 24 around the world were married before the age of 18. This is according to a report by International Centre for Research On Women (ICRW).
The report also states that if present trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That is an average of 14.2 million girls each year.
There is a link between teenage pregnancies and early marriages. It is becoming increasingly common for girls particularly ones from low-income environments to be forced into marriages.
In 2011, Rebecca, at the age of 15 was living with her parents in Kalumwange resettlement scheme, which is situated about 80 kilometres from Kaoma on the Kaoma/Kasempa road. At that time, her family was experiencing financial problems. Her father married her off when she fell pregnant. She was in grade nine.
“I had no choice but to accept his decision, though I was not ready for marriage,” she recounts.
Girls married off at a tender age are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later when they are more mature and assertive. This puts them at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
Child marriage can happen to both sexes, but girls are more likely to be married off at an early age.
The problem of child marriage is addressed in a number of international instruments and agreements. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), for example, covers the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.
The right to ‘free and full’ consent to marriage is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.
Child marriage infringes on the child’s right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices.
While it is important to address the problem of child marriages, it is equality important to look into issues that make girls vulnerable.
Costage Munyama, 60, of Lusaka and father of five says there is need to have open conversations around sexual reproductive health with our children otherwise they will be taught wrong things by their peers or other people, adding that schools and other establishments can only do so much.
Child marriages violate basic human rights. When girls are forced to marry, they often drop out of school. They may face serious health complications and even death from early pregnancy and childbearing, and are at greater risk of HIV infection and intimate partner violence. They are often isolated, with limited opportunity to engage socially and to participate in the economic development of their communities.
“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.
Zambia is among the 20 countries in the world with the highest number of child marriages.
The authors are Zambia YMCA youth rights advocates

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