CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
CHILD marriages are among the most retrogressive practices hampering girls’ education in Zambia, especially in rural areas.
Many ethnic groups, aided by age-old traditions, with the support of traditional leaders, have for a long time supported child marriages, much to the disadvantage of the girl child.
Some families see child marriages as an immediate solution to their economic hardships. And just for the momentary benefit of dowry, girls are forced out of school to become wives and mothers.
But the changing times have seen the emergence of chiefs who abhor child marriages and will do everything to stop the practice and punish culprits.
Some chiefs now appreciate the detriments of child marriages such as the abandoning of education, consequently the economic hardships and chronic poverty, as well as ill-health arising from premature exposure to pregnancy and childbirth.
The traditional leaders are fighting child marriages within their chiefdoms, through the House of Chiefs, in partnership with Government, local and international organisations.
Chief Chamuka of Chisamba district is a shining example of traditional leaders that have outlawed child marriage in their chiefdoms.
Recently Chief Chamuka dissolved the marriage of an under 16 years pupil of Kabanga Combined Secondary School who got married when she was about to write her grade nine examinations.
To send a warning signal to his subjects, Chief Chamuka, who is also an avid campaigner against gender-based violence (GBV), reported the matter to the police, and the groom was charged with child defilement.
In addition, the chief fined the groom’s father two cows for allowing their son to elope with an underage girl.
“I shall not rest until child marriage is eradicated in my chiefdom.
I want girls to complete school to reduce the power imbalance currently existing between boys and girls, men and women,” Chief Chamuka said.
He has also been encouraging girls to focus on their education and think of marriage when they complete school.
In fact in all Lenje chiefdoms – Chibombo, Chisamba, Kapiri Mposhi and Ngabwe districts – early marriages have been banned.
Senior Chief Mukuni Ng’ombe of the Lenje people warns that people practicing or aiding child marriages of punishment because the vice has been banned.
“Anyone found wanting shall face the wrath of both customary and statutory law,” Chief Mukuni Ng’ombe warned during the Kalumba Kubwalo traditional ceremony in Chibombo recently.
“In short, we are warning our subjects to desist from practicing
injurious cultures, traditions and norms,” he said.
Lenje traditional leaders have also unanimously resolved that initiation ceremonies will no longer be used to teach girls how to handle men in bed, but rather should concentrate on matters of hygiene, education, respect for elders, HIV/AIDS (prevention), virtues of hard work, the fear of God and the need to live in peace and unity with one’s neighbours.
Furthermore, Chief Mukuni Ng’ombe Lenje said the chiefs in his area are committed to addressing gender imbalances which promote GBV.
Chief Chisomo of Serenje is another traditional leader championing the ban of child marriages.
In Chisomo, boy children have also fallen victim to child marriages.
Chief Chisomo of the Lala people who has been campaigning for equal access to education by boys and children, banned child marriage upon realising that the practice was rife in his chiefdom.
“Due to the closure of three schools (Chisomo, Kaombe and
Chimbaya) many girls were married off which should not be the case because children need education,” Chief Chisomo said.
Chief Chisomo is known for punishing parents and guardians for abetting child marriages.
Chief Shabila’s area in Mkushi is one of the areas grappling with
In December last year, it was discovered that 28 girls aged between
15 and 17 years had been pulled out of school and married off by their parents and guardians.
Some girls got married to boys of their age, while others married older men.
When Mkushi district commissioner Luka Mwamba and community leaders intervened, the affected girls were withdrawn from their husbands’ homes and taken back to school.
“Parents should understand that girl children are not supposed to be married off. They need to get educated to have a better future,” Mr Mwamba said.
He said it is unfortunate that some parents and guardians are perpetuating the vice despite Government efforts to curb child marriage.
Mr Mwamba argued that poverty should not be the reason to marry off girls at the expense of education.
“Government is offering free education from grade one to seven.
Parents should not say they cannot afford to pay for their children when education is free. These girls are under age,” he said.
Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) coordinator for Central and Eastern region Pascal Kambafwile says there is need for Zambia to do more to retain girls in school and prepare them for a better future.
Mr Kambafwile said it is sad that young girls are being married off at the time they are supposed to be in school.
“There are so many reports in the media about young girls being
married off, and as NGOCC, we are worried. This is an indication that the numbers are going up at a fast rate,” Mr Kambafwile said.
He said there is need to intensify sensitisation campaigns on the benefits of education and dangers of child marriage.
House of Chiefs chairperson Chief Ntambu says chiefs have joined the campaign against child marriage because the scourge is widespread.
“This scourge is very common in our chiefdoms. That is why we are in the forefront of abolishing it because it is retrogressive,” Chief Ntambu said.
The chief was speaking in an interview at Kabwe Lodge recently during a Chiefs’ Indaba.
He counselled parents and guardians to prioritise education of the girl child above marriage.
Chief Ntambu of the Lunda people of Mwinilunga also noted that the girls being married off are not ready for marriage and their bodies are not strong enough for marital duties and responsibilities.
He said this is the reason why some girls experience health complications after giving birth.
“What is important is to continue educating the people to take children to school,” Chief Ntambu said.
CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe