CHILD MARRIAGE ROBS LOVENESS OF HER CHILDHOOD: ‘I WANT TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL’ SAYS LOVENESS
*Loveness is child marriage survivor; she fell pregnant when she was 16 years old and could not complete her education. She is now 18 years, a wife and a mother in a rural district in Zambia. Despite the fact that the legal age of marriage in Zambia is 21, on average 31% of women aged 20–24 years were married by the age of 18.
“In 2016, I fell pregnant, I was 16 years old. I was in the 8th grade. I was impregnated by a fellow pupil who was in the 9th grade. We were both children, but have been married for two years now and have one child. When I got pregnant my husband also had to stop going to school so he could start working to provide for us. He started working as a bricklayer. We needed to prepare financially by buying baby clothes and saving for transport costs to the hospital to deliver the baby. Sadly, when I was pregnant the clinic near our home was not dealing with first time mothers, especially young girls because often their bodies are not yet ready for such a task. There was fear of complications during delivery. We were told to travel to the district hospital, which is more than 200 kms away by gravel road but fortunately when my time came I was exempted and delivered from the same local health centre with the help of a traditional birth attendant.”
Loveness like many adolescents in Zambia have limited or no access to reproductive health services. “I realised that I was pregnant when I stopped having my monthly sickness (periods). My neighbour had told me that when you miss your monthly sickness then you are pregnant. When I realised this had happened, I was gripped by fear. These days I get an injection at the clinic every month to prevent me from getting pregnant. I don’t want have another child because I am already too young for the one child I am taking care of. I did not plan to get pregnant but when I did, realised it was a mistake but if had access to contraceptives I probably would not have become pregnant or marry at an early age”
According to Krista Kruft, Zambia Program Development and Quality Director, “Child marriage has so many effects on young girls. When girls like Loveness get pregnant, their future prospects become limited. They are cut short from education, from further learning and from developing their full potential. This affects both the new mother and her child. It’s a vicious circle which we want to break”. “When found out I was pregnant I was afraid of telling my parents even though somehow my grandmother knew even without telling her. In the third month of the pregnancy I had gone to visit her and when she saw me she asked if I was pregnant. I refused to admit it to her so she told me to go back to my parents’ home and she followed me a few days later. She told my parents about her suspicions so my mum and grandmother took me to a room where they physically checked my belly and of course they confirmed that I was pregnant.”
Most cases of teenage pregnancy in Zambia often lead to marriage as it is considered the route to save face and in some cases as a way of financial gain for the family. “When they confirmed the pregnancy they called for a family meeting and started engaging the family of the boy who impregnated me. When the two families discussed it was agreed that one cow be paid to my family as an admission of guilt for the pregnancy. After the payment was done my husband moved in with me at my grandmother’s place where we have been living since then.
Loveness has a dream to go back to school but has fears. “I still want to go back to school but so far there is no one to pay the annual school fee of ZMK 600 for me. I have asked my husband to help me return to school but he is against the idea because he fears that I would start playing around. We dropped out of school almost at the same time but my husband has lost interest in going back to school because he believes it is too late for him to do that now. If I had money to go back to school, I would disobey my husband and re-enrol because I find that marriage is just full of suffering. My husband has taken to drinking and often comes home drunk so there is little to enjoy in marriage. If I get an education, I can be a nurse.”
Having a dual legal system (comprising both national and customary laws) presents Zambia with a number of challenges in protecting children’s rights. Although the country has various pieces of legislation that aim to protect children, there has been a delay in harmonising these laws. The legal age of marriage is 21 and 16 years with parental consent. As a result, the country’s current legal framework does not provide a uniform or coherent approach to issues affecting children – including the legal definition of a child. Save the Children with partners is advocating for the enactment of the Child Code Bill which will help eliminate these inconsistencies in the law.
Further, Save the Children under the SIDA-CSO 2017-21 project is currently carrying out research to better understand the causes and impacts of child marriage on children like Loveness. The research results culminate into position papers which are used as ending child marriage advocacy tools and contribute to the 2016-21 national strategy on Ending Child Marriage in Zambia.
*Loveness not her real name