THE issue of early marriages in Zambia is a big problem. Many children in rural areas are withdrawn from schools and forced into marriages.
Underage girls being forced into motherhood and all the complications associated with this.
Causes of child marriages are many and may include poverty, bride price, dowry, cultural traditions and laws that allow child marriages in some countries.
There are also the issues of religious and social pressures, regional customs, and fear of remaining single, illiteracy, and professed incapability of women to work for cash.
No one therefore in Zambia can today deny that child marriage is driven by poverty and has many special effects on girls’ health.
These include increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas.
Medical experts have also reported that girls’ children are at a greater risk of premature birth and death as neonatals, infants, or children. United Nations data shows that Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 42 percent of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18 – a rate that has not evolved since 2002.
Zambia remains among the top deep waters for the practice that robs girls of both education and infancy.
Girls living in Zambia’s rural areas are at a greater danger of being married off at an early age, and those with no entrance to education are the most susceptible. Only yesterday the Sun carried a story of early marriages being still rife in Chimika Ward in Luano Valley and messing up lives of girl children despite sensitisation programmes against the vice..
Area councillor Bedford Katiti said the continuous rampant child marriages and unwanted teen pregnancies in the ward were worrying as they killed the future of girl children.
His concerns came in the wake of a recent incident where a girl aged 14 died together with her newly born baby after delivery after being in labour for three days.
In an interview, Mr Katiti said the parents seemed not to care about their children’s future especially the girls but were for material gains.
Mr. Katiti said he has been rebuking and sensitizing perpetrators on the ills of early marriages but vice had somehow continued to thrive on large scale. He attributed the escalation of the vice to factors such as illiteracy and ignorance by parents as well as Luano being in the typical rural community.
“When we try to counsel and sensitize perpetrators of the vice about its dangers, their responses are that they are their own children and they have every right to marry them off children as they wish,” he said. Mr. Katiti noted with concern that to eradicate early marriages, concerted efforts were needed by all members of the community.
He further observed that perpetrators of the crime hid in traditional law which should be repealed and harmonized with constitutional law.
It is however heartening to learn that traditional leaders in Zambia have now pertinently joined the war against child marriage, along with other issues surrounding the subject.
Recently Chief Nyamphande of the Nsenga people in the Eastern Province, which includes Misolo Village, said they are utilizing public gatherings as a platform to educate people in his chiefdom about the consequences for families who marry girls off at a young age.
So far, the initiative is said to have prevented 20 child marriages in Chief Nyamphande chiefdom by stopping dowry practices in a number of communities.
All in all, we think to effectively stop child marriages, there will be need for policies and programmes to educate communities, raise sentience, engage local and religious leaders, involve parents, and empower girls through edification and employment.