A recent Parliamentary report on the challenges of ‘child’ marriages:
Your Committee observes that incidences of child marriage are high in Zambia. The Country has been ranked 10th on a global ranking of prevalence of early marriages amongst girls and boys. Particularly notable is the vast gender discrepancy with 42% of women aged 20 - 24 years, married before age 18, compared to only 5% of men, indicating that girls are often married to older men.
Your Committee further observes that social and economic factors that perpetuate child marriages are interconnected. Economic hardships encourage families to marry off their daughters rather than send them to school, and social norms support the view that education is less important for girls than boys. Girls who marry early are caught up in a negative cycle that involves premature childbearing, high rates of maternal mortality and child malnutrition.Your Committee also observes that child marriage is often the product of gender discrimination that values the survival, development, protection and participation of boys more highly than girls. Child marriage is a violation of human rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy, but currently it represents the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls. The harmful consequences of child marriage 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.
Furthermore, our Committee observes that because they cannot abstain from sex or insist on condom use, child brides are often exposed to such serious health risks as premature pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and, increasingly, HIV/AIDS. Parents may consent to child marriages out of economic necessity. Marriage may thus be seen as a way to provide a male guardian for their daughters, protect them from sexual assault, avoid pregnancy outside marriage, and extend their childbearing years. The dual legal system in Zambia has allowed child marriages to take place. Under the customary law, once a girl attains puberty, she is assumed to be ready for marriage and with the consent of the parents, she could be married off.
You can read the rest of the report here. One of the things revealed in the report is that child marriages are very common. Evidence from Livingstone suggests "girls as young as twelve years old had been married off to men twice their age" in return for “large amounts of money and cattle”. Interestingly, western cultural influence has not helped, according to the Committee, “your Committee also heard that modern trends such as easy access to pornographic movies, songs and Western style dressing, had exposed young girls to early sex which eventually led to early marriages..”
This is a major problem which can only be resolved through giving chiefs a greater role in policy development. Quite in important not only in tackling poverty but also bringing about a cultural re-education. As long as chiefs are outside the governance process these issues will remain intractable. One hopes this report will spur more debate on this complex area. Previous discussion on these issues via the House of Chiefs.