|A young mother in rural Zambia|
By Paul Shalala
Stakeholders in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province have called for the criminalization of child marriages to protect school-going children from early marriages.
According to World Vision International, Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 42% of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18.
During a provincial experts meeting in Kitwe on Monday, Kitwe District Commissioner Chanda Kabwe called for the country to come up with stringent laws which would punish parents who marry off their school-going children.
Mr Chanda said it was sad that children were being married off at an early age and most of them were dropping out of school and becoming parents.
“Some parents, when they see their girl children, they see wealth. We need to start arresting and jailing such irresponsible people so that the girl child can finish school and seize all the opportunities the world has in store for them,” said Mr Kabwe who heads local government departments in the mining town of Kitwe.
He regretted that Zambia has few women in positions of decision making and child marriages were making the situation even worse as girls who were intelligent in school are having their education cut short by early marriages.
And Chileshe Soteli, the Chiefs Affairs Officer in Lufwanyama District called for the punishment of under age children who abandon school and insist on marrying.
Ms Soteli, who narrated how she has over the years dealt with numerous cases of juveniles who opt for early marriage, said there was need for the minors to be punished as a deterrent to would be child brides and child grooms.
“I come from a rural district where child marriages are common. We plead with these children to stick to school but they insist on marrying. I think we need a law which will prescribe a form of punishment for such children because the situation is getting out of hand,” said Ms Soteli.
And gender activist Sharon Chisanga says most school going children are forced into early marriage because of their parents’ failure to raise money to sustain their lives.
Ms Chisanga, who is also Provincial Coordinator for the Young Women Christian Association, told the meeting that there was need for society to curb this vice because it is depriving the nation of potential female leaders.
“Parents are also to blame for this problem. When young girls sleep in cabins, they feel uncomfortable and they hope to get married and sleep in better homes,” she said.
Cabins are small houses which were built as temporal houses for single miners on the Copperbelt but over the decades, they have been transformed into family houses despite their small size.
The provincial stakeholders meeting on early marriages was organised by the Law Development Commission to find suggestions from stakeholders on whether to criminalise early marriages due to the escalating cases across the country.
The commission decided to start its countrywide tour and collection of views in the Copperbelt Province because according to the Central Statistical Office, the copper-rich region has the second highest cases of child marriages among the 10 provinces of Zambia.
“Zambia has two sources of law for marriage. Under statutory law, a person can marry at 21 years and we have no problem with that. But under customary law, a person can be married at any age as long as they reach puberty. This is where we have a problem and early marriages are increasing under customary law,” said Gilbert Mwanza, a lawyer and research officer at the Law Development Commission.
Mr Mwanza, who is leading the countrywide collection of the views, is among officer who are expected to draft a bill to criminalise child marriages and harmonise the marriage age.
The Law Development Commission is a statutory body under Zambia’s Ministry of Justice.
The commission is mandate is to continuously research on laws and propose bills to parliament.