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EARLY MARRIAGES STALL CHILD EDUCATION ADVANCEMENT

CONTINUED reports of several minors dropping out of school in Zambia every year due to early child marriages makes sad reading.

Once they are out of school, it is not a secret that the majority of the minors, more especially girls get entangled in a vicious cycle of poverty, reducing their opportunities of having a good life in the future.

Just yesterday, we heard how Government had retrieved over 500 girls from early marriages in Chama District in Muchinga Province.

Minister of Gender Elizabeth Phiri said the child marriage survivors from various villages of Chama District have since been integrated into school under the India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) project.

Ms Phiri explained that the IBSA project, an initiative supported by the United Nations Women and her ministry, is focusing on empowering girls with education opportunities.

She observed that child marriage is a serious challenge which needs to be addressed as it is one of the things that hinders the attainment of gender equality.

“Girls should be encouraged to be in school and not be used to make a fortune for parents,” she said.

The Minister said this when she handed over a scholarship fund of over K1.8 million and 106 bicycles to girls from 18 schools in Chama District.

And Chama District Commissioner Leonard Ngoma has thanked the UN women and government for incorporating the IBSA project in the district.

Mr Ngoma said the rate of child marriages in the district was disheartening and needed urgent attention.

He however appealed for more girls to be brought on board to help address the challenge of early marriage in the area.

“As Chama District, we will be happy to see more girls taken back to school because we have too many girls who are in early marriages,” Mr Ngoma said.

Meanwhile, Irene Nguni a child marriage survivor and a beneficiary of the project assured government and its partners that the girls will use the opportunity to better their lives.

Nguni narrated that the integration of girls into schools will also give encouragement to other girls who are into early marriages to go back to school.

The United Nations -Women with support from government is implementing the India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) project aimed at ending child marriages in Chama and Mpulungu districts.

This shocking revelation of 500 girls having drooped out of school in one District (Chama) shows that the fight against early child marriages in Zambia is far from over.

What is even more disheartening is the fact that there is an increase in the number of girls who are dropping out of school, despite Government efforts to fight this heinous practice through, among other things, legislation.

While early child marriages could be attributed to poverty and youth delinquency, patriarchal attitudes against the development of the girl child and abuse of the girls by the same people who should be protecting them are worsening this problem.

Media reports show that relatives, religious leaders and other influential community leaders who should be shepherding the hapless girls are actually at the forefront of abusing them, forcing them into early marriages, when they should be in school.

Surely, if 500 girls dropped out of school owing to early marriages just in Chama District, what more the whole districts in the country?

It does not need a rocket scientist to conclude that they got married to men, much older than them, with the majority of them being influential community leaders, who should be protecting them from all forms of abuse.

It is sad that the same individuals entrusted with enacting and implementing legislation on early child marriages are among the list of abusers.

That development alone stalls Government efforts to curb the problem of early child marriages, throwing the girl child in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Child marriages stand in the way of the girls’ progress, and the revelations by Ms Phiri that 500 girls had been married off make sad reading indeed.

It dampen the efforts that stakeholders across the social and political divides are making to ensure that no girl drops out of school due to early marriages.

Apart from the social stigma they are likely to face, they end up in violent marriages because of the power dynamics within those relationships.

They also experience birth complications and, the practice has been deemed to cause high mortality rates.

Thus the cycle of violence and poverty that begins in girlhood, carries over into womanhood and across generations until the woman dies.

We cannot continue to subject and condemn young and vulnerable girls to a perpetual life of misery, when we should be guiding them towards a better life by protecting them from sexual predators.

They can secure a better future, if they remain in school and are protected from early sexual experiences.

That will only happen if communities take ownership of the problem of early child marriages, by ensuring that they also censure those that prey on young girls.

Communities should take proactive measures to bring to book those perpetuating early child marriages within their midst.

With legislation backing the prosecution and sentencing of abusers of young girls, early child marriages should be dealt with, once and for all.

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