Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31% of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18.
Child marriage in Zambia may be more prevalent than we think. The birth registration rate of 14% makes it difficult to know the exact age of millions of girls.
A girls’ lack of access to education is one of the biggest contributors to the likelihood of child marriage. In Zambia, it has been observed that by Grade 12, female pupils account for only about 35 per cent of the enrolment.
This situation must be addressed.
We know that prioritising the enrolment and retention of girls in school is a critical step in their protection and promotion of equal opportunities for girls in Zambia. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; they are less likely to die in childbirth; and more likely to have healthy babies and send their children to school. Further, adolescent girls that attend school usually delay marriages and childbearing. They are less vulnerable to disease, including HIV and AIDS, and acquire information and skills that lead to increased earning power. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.
So why are girls not going to school?
There are various barriers in place especially at the secondary school level and among the most marginalised children. These include unequal access, poor performance, early dropping out of school and low enrolment in higher education. Normally, the barriers can range from financial constraints to negative social norms that favour boys education when a family has limited resources. Inadequate sanitation facilities in schools, such as lack of private and separate latrines, and negative classroom environments where girls may face violence, exploitation or corporal punishment are among other reasons that discourage girls from accessing education. Many girls drop out of school at the onset of menstruation, partially because there are no separate toilet facilities.
Pregnancy, early marriage and poverty are intrinsically linked and are the main challenges Zambian girls face in staying in school, particularly in rural schools.
There are many fighting this gender injustice in Zambia. This week alone, 33 girls in Mkushi, some as young as 13, were rescued from early marriages and enrolled back in schools. The Ministry of General Education has also formulated and put in place a number of policies and programmes to encourage girls to be in school.
Tehila is also passionate about the girl child’s right to education. Over the last year, we have been involved in building the capacity of a Girl’s Dormitory in Serenje. This dormitory enables girls to live safely in the town and attend secondary school. Many of these girls live far from town and prior to having this safe place, the girls were forced to stay alone in unsafe parts of the town, at risk of exploitation and abuse. The Matron of the dormitory recently attended our Safe Places training and has become a passionate advocate for girls’ safety, actively putting in place various safeguarding measures within the dormitory. It is exciting to see and be a part of.
This weekend, the Tehila Team travel to another rural area outside Lusaka to train teachers at a school where there have been a number of girl pupils getting pregnant. In 2015, the Zambian ministry introduced a ‘Re-entry’ policy in order to offer girls who drop out of school due to early pregnancies a second chance to have access to education. We are interested to see how this is happening within this school.
We are excited to begin this new partnership. We will build the capacity of the staff and school to make their environment safer for children. We will equip the children with knowledge of sexual abuse and self-protective behaviours. We will embark on a sexual health awareness programme with the girls. We will encourage a community led response to child safeguarding beyond the school.
We would appreciate your prayers as we travel and for those remaining at home in Lusaka looking after our children!
Lots of love
Han and the Team xx