UNICEF supports campaign to end child marriages in Zambia
Let girls be girls, NOT brides!
CHIPATA, Zambia (By Betty Chella Nalungwe/UNICEF) -- Child marriage is a violation of human rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy, and it represents one of the prevalent forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. The harmful consequences include separation from family and friends, lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities, and decreased opportunities for education.
Child marriage can also result in bonded labour or enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence against the victims. Child marriage is often the product of gender discrimination that values the survival, development, protection and participation of boys more highly than that of girls.
The Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs (MoCTA) with support from other government line ministries, cooperating partners, and civil society has embarked on a nationwide campaign to end child marriages in Zambia. The first of the planned provincial-based campaigns took place here on 13 April in Luangeni Village in His Royal Highness Nkhosi Yama Nkhosi Chief Mpezeni’s chiefdom in Zambia’s Eastern Province.
Eastern Province has Zambia’s highest rate of girls married off before the age of 18 at fifty per-cent (DHS, 2007). The national launch was led by Zambia’s First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba and included home visitations to couples affected by child marriages. A total of seven homes were visited and the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta was one of the dignitaries that participated in the home visitations as well as the launch events
“I can assure you this was not a forced marriage even though we did not plan to get married. I damaged her (impregnated her) and that is when I decided to marry her and this is why we both stopped school to look after our baby,” said Joachim Banda who is 18 years old.
Mr. Banda and his 16 year old wife Mildred Sakala, and their nine-month-old baby Salome Banda live in Luangeni village. They opened up about their life stories after the team leader from the provincial child development section of the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, Ms. Josephine Phiri, briefed them about the nature of the visits and that they were opportunities for senior government officials to learn “first hand” about child marriages.
When the couple was married, Mildred was in grade 5 and Joachim was in grade 7. Because they are both out of school now, the chances that baby Salome will be able to attend school herself remain bleak.
Joachim and Mildred expressed interest in going back to school though they are challenged with how they would do that with their parenting responsibilities. Joachim explained he tries to make a living by engaging in piece work.
Representing the United Nations system at the launch of the nationwide campaign to end child marriages, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Rao Gupta said that child marriage in Zambia affects over 40% of girls across the country. “It is a gross human rights violation, which constitutes a grave threat to young girls' lives, health, and future prospects. Child brides are at risk of violence, poverty, HIV and AIDS and complications related to pregnancy and childbirth which in developing countries like Zambia are the main causes of death among 15-19 year-old girls” said Ms. Rao Gupta. She re-affirmed the United Nations support to national interventions to end child marriage in Zambia, which will not only contribute towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, but also protect the rights of girls as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Speaking to affected couples during the home-visits, First Lady Dr. Kaseba urged the girls and boys to consider going back to school and acquire skills to empower themselves economically. "Government will help you [young couples] decide what support you need - but you should know that education is priority as it will help you have a bright future. Various ministries will look into your needs and help you according to your needs." she said.
Dr. Kaseba, in her speech as guest of honour during the launch highlighted that girls who are victims of child marriages are among those who are least educated, poorest, and living in rural areas. She added that this scourge hinders development and slows down the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She highlighted that child marriages are influenced by cultural practices which are highly respected and rooted in the African tradition, adding that if such trends continue, an estimated 453,000 young girls born between 2005 and 2010 would be married or in union before the age of 18 years by 2030.
UNICEF Zambia is supporting the national Situation Analysis (SiTAN) on child marriage which will contribute to the mapping of organisations working on child marriage and eventually towards the development of a detailed programme document which will bring about the national strategy on child marriage. UNICEF will also render technical support to the line ministry as they roll out the rest of the roadmap for the campaign.
Nalungwe is a senior communications assistant with UNICEF Zambia