Aliness, is a 14-year-old young girl living in Petauke, Zambia. In her village, young people face many challenges such as child marriages, teenage pregancies and child labour.
Many girls, including me, and everyone who was married off at a young age are back in school because of the commitment of our village headman in fighting child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
For Aliness, had it not been for the intervention of the village head man, she would still be languishing in a marriage with no hope of a better future.
But after just a few weeks into the marriage, the village headman upon learning of Aliness’s ordeal decided to confront her parents and had her removed from the arrangement and taken back to school.
My parents were struggling to provide for all of us. It was then that they suggested that I get married so as to lessen my family’s financial burden.
Child Marriages in Zambia
Like many developing countries, Zambia still grapples with child marriages. Many girls particularly from lower-income environments in Zambia are married off at a very young age and in the process denied access to education and dignified life.
Petauke district in Zambia’s Eastern Province is among the five districts with the highest child marriage prevalence rates in Zambia. The practice has significantly affected key health and development outcomes among adolescent girls, depriving them of fundamental rights to health, education and the fulfillment of future aspirations.
For many children, many of whom become mothers while they are still practically children themselves, repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically and psychologically ready to become mothers poses life-threatening risks, including risk for maternal death and complications such as Fistula; HIV and AIDS; domestic violence; as well as costs for delayed or lost life potentials.
Taking his community with him
However, there is hope in the horizon to address negative social norms that perpetuate child marriage in the district, with demonstrated commitment by traditional leaders such as Headman Yohane Tembo of the Nsenga speaking people in Kolwe Village, of Mumbi Chiefdom in Petauke district.
With support from the Children’s Future Project – a joint project implemented by Save the Children and Restless Development to end child marriages, teenage pregnancies and child labor in Petuake district, Headman Kolwe has established local committees mandated to implement interventions to address social and cultural drivers of child marriage in the Chiefdom.
Equally, he continues to play a significant role towards encouraging adolescent mothers in his Chiefdom to go back to school.
As a traditional leader, I want to ensure that we challenge social and traditional norms and practices that negatively affect Girls. We do this through undertaking community dialogues with parents and children to make them understand why child marriage has negative consequences on health, education and wellbeing of children.
We are also working with traditional counselors who conduct the initiation rites to revise the curriculum to focus only on progressive topics and cultural practices that promote respect for human rights .
Interventions that changes lives
Headman Kolwe remains resolved to fight child marriages and accelerate inclusive development in his chiefdom through sustainable solutions that address negative traditional and social norms.
Through the Children’s Future Project, we have managed to prevent child marriages and also successfully retrieved 4 young girls from such arrangements. And they have all gone back to school.
Headman Kolwe reveals that because of education and sensitization programs that are being undertaken by the project in his village, most families now apprehend the dangers of child marriage, including maternal death and greater risk of contracting a range of sexually transmitted infections.
Communities now also appreciate the fact that marrying off young girls is retrogressive in that it not only robs the child involved of a better future but also denies our village the chance to develop. Educated children are an asset to both their immediate communities and the country as a whole.