SOLUTIONS to a number of issues that affect our nation can be found in partnerships.
We all agree that there is strength in numbers, like a local proverb goes: “One finger cannot crush a louse”. This proverb holds true in the fight against early or forced marriage. Partnership, the way First Lady Esther Lungu is going, is a commendable move and it should be supported by all those who care about the education of girls. The future of most girls is threatened by early or forced marriage, making it a national concern, and that is why Mrs Lungu is taking the lead to help the girl-child. She has taken the mantle to champion the cause of the girl-child and help bring cases of early or child marriage down so that Zambia does not run out of women who will be in positions of decision making in future. Mrs Lungu’s efforts supplement the multi-sectoral approach the country has adopted where line ministries have formed a consortium to draw synergies and linkages to campaign against child marriage. We know that the scourge is most prevalent in villages but it also exists in urban areas, though it is said that figures are coming down, from 60 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2017, due to the linkages. However, the aim is to achieve a zero rate against child or forced marriages and that is why the fight continues so that more girls are spared until they have attained some level of education and can make their own choices. The partnership that Mrs Lungu has formed with United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS to train 20 chiefs’ spouses adds a spirited dimension to the fight against child marriage. The chiefs’ spouses will be trained in sensitising girls about the importance of education and the negative effects of early marriage. In the African setting, chiefs play a cardinal role in their communities and their pronouncements to subjects are law. The community looks up to a Chief for direction, and subjects take seriously any orders issued by the chief. For example, we have Chief Madzimawe in the Eastern Province, who is vigorously championing the fight against child marriage and, already, he has rescued a number of girls from early marriages and is punishing subjects who disobey the edict. He is sending a message to his subjects and his efforts are slowly bearing fruit. We are hopeful that more fruit will be seen with the partnership between Mrs Lungu and chief’s wives, who, by virtue of their positions, are the mothers of their subjects. The chief’s wives hold a better position in the fight against child and early marriage because they speak from a point of knowledge and maybe experience. Girls need mentors and this is the position we wish to see the queens take up so they help the girls build a future for themselves by remaining in school. Within their chiefdoms, the queens are able to form smaller groupings and appoint leaders who will help them in sensitising girls against early marriage and submit reports on what they are doing. The chief’s spouses are always in contact with their subjects and it places them in a position where they can thwart or stop a girl from abandoning school and getting married. No one person can win this fight. The fight includes even those who are not queens. For example, one of the reasons girls drop out of school is the lack of boarding facilities in rural areas. We have seen a number of business entities supporting girls’ education by, say, carrying out some mentorship programmes. While these may help, there is a better investment in providing weekly boarders with better facilities like boarding houses so that girls do not squat with men who end up making them pregnant. Let them learn from what Mrs Lungu is doing. It is crucial to pool resources together so that more girls’ future is secured as the country strives towards the 50-50 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) gender protocol.