This essay was written for International Day of the Girl by a participant of Lubuto's DREAMS program. Her name has been changed to ensure anonymity
“The question is not who is going to listen to me but who am I going to talk to?" The Zambia that we have today encourages male economic dominance, hence making women subordinate to men, but is that what we really want as young women and girls? To grow up and then get married at a tender age and submit to our husbands and it ends there?
One of the fundamental factors leading to the increase in the number of early child marriage cases is the tolerance and ignorance among parents. Because you find most parents have the habit of marrying off their children, they immediately mature. The other contributing factor is that most parents do not show concern with regards to their children’s education. They have neglected that parenting role and left everything in the hands of teachers, forgetting that the first teacher a child has is their parents.
But sadly what most parents do not realize is that sometimes children do things not because they have grown up but because they are not advised on the right thing to do. For instance, most parents do not talk openly about sexual education in their homes-to them if their child falls pregnant then their child is old enough for marriage. They forget that she is just a little girl who grew up a little too fast. Hence, we need to educate parents on the importance of education. Even if their children fall pregnant, marriage is not a solution to the problem. Open communication and support are the solution.
This situation is even more sad in the rural areas where there is an increase in cases of early marriage. Girls in rural areas are in need of programs empowering women and girls focused on fostering their determination for education. Apart from that, girls need to be equipped with life skills, with an emphasis on the need to develop self-esteem, especially among adolescent girls. Lack of self-esteem in girls is increasing by the day, because most girls feel insecure about doing most things believing that they won’t be successful. They also fail to accept who they are and tend to become a “doormat” (someone who can be stepped on, used and left outside like a used rug).
Because of low self-esteem some teenagers tend to be victims of peer pressure in that they are easily influenced by anything that comes their way. For example, a girl may be influenced to date at an early age, use drugs, drink alcohol and many other vices, just because she wants to fit in and be considered as cool among her peers. If only adolescents knew who they are and where they are going they may not fall for certain vices.
Another factor that needs to be looked into before 2030 is the lack of recreational activities and safe spaces such as libraries where girls can study, research and find out more about other career prospects. Most schools do not have after-school activities to keep adolescents preoccupied. The lack of educational clubs in schools is also another challenge which most girls are faced with. Apart from the academic aspect, school should be a place where adolescents learn about HIV/AIDS, sports and arts and crafts.
Another hindrance towards girls' education is poverty. The rate of poverty in the country keeps increasing. To attain the vision 2030, Government and all stakeholders must work together to eradicate poverty in order to have a better Zambia. That way poverty will not be an excuse for failure to perform among adolescents. Other parents now view their daughters as capital and give them off to the highest bidder - to them so long as they receive the money it is ok. They don’t realize that they have wasted their daughter's future and shattered her dreams.
The lack of mentors in rural areas has also led to an increase in the number of early marriage cases reported. Most adolescents tend to stop school not because they are not interested but because they are hardly told the importance of school by their parents or relatives. There is a need to have mentoring sessions in schools, speaking to girls on the dangers of early marriage. Not only to the girls, but to our economy as a nation, early marriage is one of the drivers leading to the rise in poverty levels in our country. We need mentors, people that can rouse the spirit, desire and thirst for education and, in turn, success among girls. There is a need for mentors to help reshape and challenge how girls think. Mentors can help girls set and achieve their goals in life. Instead of aimlessly moving about their communities they will have beneficial things to do with their lives like attending mentoring sessions where they not only learn, but are also empowered.
My vision for 2030 is to educate my fellow girls on the dangers of early marriage. This is my desire so that you, I, they and we can be the change we want to see in our country. So that we may build a better Zambia and come 2030 the rate of early marriage should be reduced.