Child marriage is one issue that has gained significant attention in Zambia. The fact that Zambia has a child marriage prevailing rate of over 40 percent of girls puts it among the world’s leading child marriage hotspots. It still remains a challenge that affects communities in robbing children of their childhood and threatens Children’s rights especially for girls who mostly fall victim to the vice. It’s sad to note that sexual relationships of child marriage affects the health of young girls, particularly their reproductive health and their bodies which are not physically mature to accept the burden of child-bearing.
Child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face many risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families live in poverty mostly.
A Child Marriage Survivor interviewed from Lukata village in Chibombo District noted that early marriage is associated with ignorance and poverty especially in the rural areas where there is little or no productive activities for children especially girls. She said being a child marriage victim robbed her of her childhood .She became a mother at a tender age and that the experience made it hard for her to cope with life as she was adjusting to adulthood before she was ready physically and emotionally. The stress of being married off to an older man was the worst experience of torment which she lives to regret. She urged parents to stop pushing their children into child marriages to protect them from distress as well as push them to realize their potential by exposing them to the right opportunities where they will live to be responsible and learn to grow a healthy family life in future.
Child marriage and prostitution involve economic transactions, lack of freedom, and the violation of a child’s right to consent. This is often exacerbated by social and economic vulnerabilities of children linked to limited life options where the child has no opportunity to experience their childhood life. It has slave-like characteristics similar to those of Prostitution and acts as a form of child sexual exploitation which robs them of their happiness and healthy life. This is because children in child marriages are coerced into these unions and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Although sexual exploitation depends on traditional norms and mode of life people live but there is a need to ensure that statutory law is harmonized with customary law, in order to eliminate elements of customary law that are discriminatory against girls and women being the most affected.
Providing the right information to children will help protect their rights with a stronger voice. Pushing programmes that aim to change policies and legislation both at community and national level will be key especially in areas where traditions and customs reinforce child marriage. Creating strong messages that aim to change attitudes and behavior will influence entitlements of children’s rights within communities to protect children from being robbed of their childhood.
Pushing for efforts to deal with gender relations and reproductive health and rights based on sensitivity to local social dynamics, gaining the support of leaders and developing allies with local change agents will promote the right to education for all children, especially the girl child through education sponsorship programmes to encourage girls living in poverty from falling into the trap of child marriage.