BY MWIZA BWALI.
The fight against early marriages has so far proved to be a fatality that has knocked down many players, from community volunteers, government participants to Non-Profit Organizations with the core purpose to end early and forced marriages in Zambia. The evil and immoral practice of getting a child basically under the age of 18 married is what is referred to as early marriage in accordance to global organizations including UNICEF.
In Zambia, a wide range of local and international NGOs that seek to halt the prevailing evil of giving children the unwanted opportunity to go in matrimony are evidently more than enough, being one of the Countries in Africa with the most prevalent number of such NGOs and yet one of the countries with the highest rates of early marriages in the world.
According to the information in the Girls Not Brides handbook Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31% of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18, UNICEF child marriage rates further reveals that the rates vary around the country and are as high as 60% in the country’s Eastern Region and as low as 28% in the capital Lusaka.
Recently, we have witnessed a rampant increase in NGOs that fight early marriages and on the other hand an increase in numbers of early marriages rising to over 40 in 2018 according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The two variables being in the state of a positive correlation shows need for great consideration, an increase in the number of NGOs should significantly reduce the sad reality of children being given off to adults for matrimony purposes but isn’t it ironic that quite the opposite is the reality in Zambia? Information made public on 3rd January, 2019 by lusakatimes affirmed the sad reality that urban areas with less risks of early marriages have the utmost attention leaving out rural areas in a news headline titled “Absence of NGOs in Remote Areas Hampering Efforts Against Early Marriages.”
It is so strange how traditional practices have up to now kept driving the intentions of people in rural areas to marry off children at stages that leave them prone to many dangers and complications that can only be handled with maturity and experience, conditions such as Hemorrhage have claimed many young lives of Zambian girls with recent statistics showing horrendous deaths due to bleeding during child bearing but what is even more strange is the fact that NGOs that seek to put an end to this vice are based in Lusaka and other urban towns with remotely low chances of early marriages, places in the outskirts that are subjected to abject poverty and conditions suitable for marrying off children such as adherence to faulty traditions, poverty, lack of education and lack of sensitization are left in the lurch.
This brings questions of if these NGOs are truly unadulterated or not, instead of forming clubs, setting up offices in rural areas too and offer counselling to guardians and children, the main aim of NGOs seems to be far from sincerity and lacks pure goal fulfilment. I would not be surprised to learn that there are a lot of places in Zambia where a politician would gain the vote by promising to leave those that choose to marry off children alone than one who says he will curtail any possibility of early marriages and this is why we need NGOs and firm politicians who would stand for what is right even if it may not seem benign to the people, this inhospitable practice is eating up Zambia’s future.
With more than 35 NGOs of this interest, the fight against early marriages still proves a great rival and batters the social stability of the nation, usually. Early marriages are driven by traditional practices and beliefs, this is also as a result of the low social statuses assigned to women and girls in the country, in most remote areas, there are still practices of ceremonies for girls who reach puberty to prepare them for marriage to respected men in the community.
In 2016, March. Zambia adopted a five year national action plan to end child marriage and launched a national-wide campaign, as if that was not enough. In November, 2015. Zambia co-hosted the first ever African Girls Summit on Ending Child Marriage but there has been little to no change in the national prevalence rates with 150 million girls facing the risk to be married of by 2030 and Zambia not being spared the scourge.
It is clear that most of these organizations have lamentably failed to offer solutions to early marriages. Going forward, strict laws have to be put in place to rule down early marriages as a criminal offence even if it means other laws would have to be revisited, you cannot protect rights by abusing other rights, girls country wide have to be equipped with knowledge and information on the effects of early marriages and given leeway to visit relevant authorities when faced with threats, educate community leaders and the led on the consequences to be faced if they do not comprehend because parents and community leaders are the two inevitable factors in this equation.
Mwiza Bwali is a blogger with Afrodemocracyjournal, a genius BA Political Science Student with University of Lusaka (UNILUS) who authored “In Awe We Stare” as a teenager. He remains a rare inspiration to and among Zambian youth and students