Last week, I read an article that indicated that the Zambian Government is revising the marriage act, that will in turn raise the marriage consent age from 18 to 21. Of course this has sparked a lot of discussions, both positive and negative. This I believe is a good move in combating early marriage. Even with the efforts of the Government and other stakeholders, some cultures / traditional beliefs stand strong on the issue of early marriages. Another issue that sometimes leads to early marriages is poverty. The issue of poverty on its own is a different topic but is a huge factor in early marriages. During a visit in Monze district, I met a girl aged 16 who was married and already had two kids. Her reason for marriage was simple, she came from a poor family and her parents could not afford to take her to school. And since she was “fertile”, she was deemed ready for marriage. This is just one of the thousands of cases around Zambia and indeed the world at large.
Women need to be empowered, girls need to be encouraged to go to school and have access to quality education and of course people need to be educated on the negative impact of early marriages. There is also a need for strong community leadership that speaks and acts against early child marriages. According to UNFPA , 65% of women aged 20-24 with no education were married or in union by the age of 18, compared to only 17% of women with secondary education or more.
This move to increase the marriage consent is very commendable, and we can only hope that we as members of the society play a role in sensitizing others about early marriages. This task isn’t for the Government or NGOs only, we all have to take a stand against early marriages. Others may argue that there are some who willingly give in to early marriages, we still need to educate such youths. We need to educate and Act now. Regardless of the reasons for early marriage, there is still no excuse for abusing the rights of children, be it male or female. Children rights are human rights. Early child marriage is and will always be a violation of children’s right.