New Legal case brings needed attention to child marriage in Zambia
Lillian Banda – WNN Features
(WNN) LUSAKA: Had it not been for the prompt action of a concerned community, Zambian 15-year-old Evelyn Mwale would still be trapped in a forced marriage.
In April 2011, the then14-year-old Mwale was told by her aunt and other family members that she had no choice; she must get married right away. She was also told she must immediately stop attending school so she could care for her husband and his family.
At the time, as an orphan with no parents, Mwale was living with her grandmother in the rural region outside the Zambian city of Kabwe. As a child, Mwale was forced to marry a stranger — a forty-five-year-old urban man from Ng’ombe who lived in a suburb of Zambia’s capital city Lusaka, approximately 158kms (98 miles) away from her grandmother’s home.
What started as an unfair advantage had been set. A 31-year-age-difference between the husband and his young wife marked a troubled, unequal and illegal marriage.
A few days later, Mwale’s husband was arrested and charged with ‘defilement of a minor’ after neighbors in Ng’ombe became aware, then alarmed, as they reported the matter to the local police. Following the husband’s detention three others involved with the forced marriage were also arrested.
“Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights,” said Mutegaya B. Julius in a October 2010 report from the Zambia – Children in Need Network. “Many girls are married without their full free and full consent,” he added.
Zambia is not the only place where child marriage occurs. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Commonly found in isolated rural areas where the level of law enforcement is challenged and the focus on public education is low. It is usually frowned upon in more urban areas.
“My aunt forced me to get married saying that a husband would take care of me and my grandmother as well,” recounts Mwale.
Psychological damage for girls who are forced into early marriage affect all aspects of a girl’s life. Girls who marry early can experience depression, fear and vulnerability, lack of personal protection, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and extremely low self-esteem.
Although many countries have child protection laws that set the minimum age of marriage to 18 years without parental consent, a number of countries continue to struggle with the enforcement of these laws, including Zambia, who’s legal age for marriage (without consent) is 21.
“…discrimination against women is rooted in [Zambia]’s customary law, and it is so serious that it amounts to a breach of both their human and natural rights,” said a 2007 OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture) shadow report, “Human Rights Violations in Zambia,” presented to the 90th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva.
With a parent or guardian’s consent, marriage of girls between the age of 16-20 in Zambia is allowed but it is completely prohibited for anyone under the age of 15.
An age difference of over 30 years between a young girl bride and her older spouse brings with it an imbalance of power that can lead to drastic levels of inequality for girls. With little power inside the marriage, domestic violence can occur as girls are often considered with dowries the ‘purchased property’ of a husband.
Forced unwanted sex with an older partner along with a lack of birth control is also an ongoing problem.
“The payment of bride price (malobolo) and the practice of early marriages under customary law in Zambia may have the effect of increasing the vulnerability of women and girls to violence at the hands of their husbands and parents-in-law,” continues Children in Need advocate Mutegaya Julius.
In 2007 in the rural village of Nsomaulwa the parents of a seventh grade girl-student, Getrude Chileshe, demanded that her teacher be charged for the alleged rape of their daughter. The charge was legally dropped though when the teacher offered to marry the Chileshe as his second wife.
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