From Child Bride to a School Teacher
This is The story of Lessy Malambo, a Primary School Teacher in Katete District, Eastern Province Zambia
"I chose to become a teacher because of the high illiteracy levels in my family at the time. I wanted to be able to help my family members learn how to read and write and help educate children in my community", said 40-year-old Lessy Malambo as she sat in her classroom after concluding her lesson in literacy during a Catch-Up session which is an accelerated learning method for foundational literacy and numeracy skills led by the Government of the Republic of Zambia with the support of UNICEF.
In Zambia, the prevalence rate of child marriage is nearly a third (29 percent), among women aged 20-24 married before turning 18. Child marriage is often triggered by teenage pregnancy, which also stands at 29 percent, although in some cases, children get married even in the absence of pregnancy. Child marriage is increasingly between age-mates. The transition from primary to secondary school remains low, with just around 38 percent of girls transitioning from primary to secondary school. Transition is lower in the rural areas compared to learners in urban areas. Similarly, prevalence of child marriage is also higher in rural areas.
"When I reached Grade 10, my caregivers could not afford to continue paying for my education. I was left with no choice and dropped out of school, and eventually my family married me off. [before the age of 18]. Life was difficult, as I needed to help the household. I eventually got a job as a maid, and from my salary earnings, I made savings that enabled me to start a small business", said Lessy.
Poverty, child marriage and teen pregnancies are drivers contributing to children dropping out of school, especially girls. Katete District has a high prevalence of child marriage, at 39 percent, ranking fifth among Zambia's 15 districts with a high prevalence of child marriage and teen pregnancy. Katete is one of the six districts where the Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage is being implemented.
"By 2008, at age 25, I had three children. It was at that time that I thought of going back to school. It was not an easy decision as my third child was still very young. Additionally, I did not have enough money for tertiary education. My cousins then offered to support me through to college, where I graduated with a diploma in primary school teaching", said Lessy
In August 2022, the Government of Zambia enacted a new law prohibiting child marriage. According to the Children’s Code Act No 12 of 2022, child marriage is a union where one or both partners are aged below 18 years. The Act prohibits child marriage and subjecting a child to cultural or religious practices that are likely to negatively affect a child's life, health, social welfare, dignity, and physical or psychological development. This means that a marriage union that involves anyone under the age of 18 cannot be formalized through customary, legal or religious procedure. The law also recognises children that are married or at risk of marriage and a child whose parent is aged below 18 years old as a vulnerable child in need of care and protection.
"In October 2016, I was deployed by the Government and have been teaching for nearly eight years. My first-born son is studying nursing while the other two are in secondary school, and my fourth-born is still in nursery school", explained Lessy proudly.
Teacher Lessly is now a reference not only in her school in Katete, but also in her community. She has become a role model and inspiration for so many girls who want to realize their rights and where education lays the foundations for a life full of opportunities.
UNICEF, through the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is supporting the end of child marriage program by promoting various initiatives such as the Coaching Boys with the development of training materials and the training mentors (coaches) to shift attitudes and behaviors of boys and men towards greater gender equality and ultimately, contribute to ending child marriage.