CHIEFS ACT TO END CHILD MARRIAGES

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CONGRATULATIONS should go to Her Majesty, Chiefainess Shimukunami of the Lamba people for fighting under-age marriages in her rural domain of Lufwanyama on the Copperbelt Province.

Look, last week, Chieftainess Shimukunami dissolved a marriage between a 14-year-old Grade Five girl and a man aged 22 years old. Undoubtedly, the girl was forced to enter into this cumbersome matrimony under duress.

Concerned neighbours had raised the alarm and reported the matter to her in the palace. In turn, the Chieftainess wasted to time and immediately ended the marriage.

The Chieftainess also ordered that parents of both the bride and groom do manual work for one week in the royal farm. The husband was not spared either, he too was ordered to toil the land in the same garden for a longer period.

Enraged by the not so enthralling episode, the traditional ruler directed the girl’s parents to take her back to school and ensure that she finishes without disturbances.

But the chief fell short of ordering the wrong-doing parents and the man to travel to Lusaka to serve their punishment. The five should have been made to clear heaps of uncollected litter in the central business district.

The culprits should have been made to work on piles of garbage in compounds such as Kanyama, Misisi, Chibolya, Kalinglinga, Mtendere and Kabanana. With the looming rains, cholera is threatening to break out again.

All those found guilty of battering their matrimonial partners under the famous Gender-Based Violence (GBV) throughout Zambia, should be sent to Lusaka to do similar manual work as and reform them.

Yes, such measures were necessary to prevent the occurrence of cholera in the capital city which is also the country’s epicentre of the disease that breaks out almost every rainy season.

Ironically, this pandemic does not seem to break out in rural villages. Is it that only cities and towns are receptive to the disease and not villages?

If the latter is the answer, then town dwellers would do well to migrate to villages during the rains and return after the drizzles have long gone to avoid contracting this seasonal and dangerous ailment.

So, the hate for child marriages by Her Majesty stems out of her experience. In 1976 at the age of 10 and still called Yanney Mabenga, her guardian, her own aunt organised a marriage for her to a man old enough to be her father.

By the way, this girl was orphaned at the tender age of two years and grew up with her aunt who later turned out to be not so aunty. And so, with the help of another aunt, young Yanney fled the village and went to live with this savior in another village.

Young Yanney completed secondary school, studied purchasing and stores at a college and worked for a timber company in Ndola.

Today, Yanney is Chieftainess Shimukunami VIII having ascended to the throne in Lufwanyama in 2007.

Look, Her Majesty narrated this story herself at a recent workshop held in Mpika and attended by fellow traditional leaders who discussed ways and means of ending child marriages in Zambia.

Chieftainess Shimukunami has since met her supposed husband and as if she copied from the Bible, she wept like Jesus Christ did. The man looked old and wore old cloths.

The thought of her, Yanney Mabenga now the great Chieftainess Shimukunami VIII being the wife of this rumpled old man sent her into tears. Her Majesty has so far ended ten such unions and sent back to school the young brides.

In case you need to know, child or under-age marriage is any formal or informal union where one or both of the parties are under the age of 18 years. It is estimated that each year, some 12 million girls are married before their eighteenth birthday.

That is 23 girls every minute, nearly one every two seconds child marriage happens globally. And Zambia is said to have one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 years married by the age of 18.

Reasons advanced for this state of affairs range from traditional practices and beliefs to low social status assigned to women and girls. Initiation ceremonies for girls who reach puberty prepare them for marriage and gender responsibilities as defined by culture.

For, why teach a young girl the intricacies of looking after the husband after merely attaining puberty? Can’t she cross the bridge only after reaching it?

Poverty in homesteads has also been cited as being a factor that forces parents to withdraw their girl children from school and marry them off. This way, some poverty-stricken families benefit financially by receiving bride price.

However, Chieftainess Shimukunami is not alone in the fight against under-age marriages.  Chief Mazdimawe of the Ngoni people of Eastern Province is doing the same.

In 2016, for instance, Chief Mazdimawe dissolved a marriage between a boy who was doing Grade 9 and his young wife who was in Grade 6 at school.

The chief bought uniforms, books, other requisites and secured a school place for the girl at her former Mazdimawe Primary School. The boy went back to Madzimoyo Day Secondary School as a weekly boarder in Grade 8.

At the time of his disputed marriage, the boy had missed registration for Grade 9 selection examination and had to repeat in Grade 8 after the cancellation of his matrimony.

Not to be left out, Chief Kasoma Lwela of the Ushi people of Mansa in Luapula Province has also invalidated eight similar marriages in his chiefdom.

In Southern Province, Chief Chipepo is punishing parents who allow their under-aged children to marry early in his area of jurisdiction. The erring parents are made to work in other people’s farms.

According to history, child marriage was common around the world when the average life expectancy did not exceed 50 years old. So child marriage was considered an effective practice to sustain population.

The practice began to be questioned in the 20th century, with the age of individuals’ first marriage increasing in many countries. In Ancient Greece, early marriage and motherhood for girls was encouraged and boys were expected to marry in their teens. Early marriages and teenage motherhood was typical.

In Ancient Rome, girls married above the age of 12 and boys above 14 while in the middle Ages, under English civil laws that were derived from Roman laws, marriages before the age of 16 were common.

In imperial China, child marriage was the norm.

Most religions, over history, influenced the marriageable age. For example, Christian ecclesiastical law forbade marriage of a girl before the age of puberty. Hindu scriptures mandated the age of a girl’s marriage to be adulthood which they defined as three years after the onset of puberty.

Jewish scholars and rabbis strongly discouraged marriages before the onset of puberty but at the same time, in exceptional cases, girls aged three (3) years through 12 (the legal age of consent according to halakha) might be given in marriage by her father.

By Judaism, the minimal girl age for marriage was 12 years and one day.

Prior to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the minimum age set by the Catholic Church, for a dissoluble betrothal (sponsalia de futuro) was seven years. The minimum age for a valid marriage was puberty, or nominally 14 for males and 12 for females.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law increased the minimum age for a valid marriage at 16 years for males and 14 years for females. The 1983 Code of Canon Law maintained the minimum age for a valid marriage.

Some Islamic marriage practices have permitted marriage of girls below the age of 10, because Sharia law is based in part on the life and practices of Muhammad, the Prophet.

Muhammad married Aisha, his third wife, when she was aged about six years and consummated the marriage when she was about nine years old.

The Marriage Act (Chapter 50 of the Laws of Zambia) states, amongst other things, that no one under the age of eighteen should be married. The law further declares that any person under the age of 16 is a child.

This threshold could soon rise to 20 years as measures were underway to do so and when done, many unsuspecting parents would find themselves in hot soup for marrying off their under-age children.

Let us do something and let God help us marry our children at the right age.

Disclaimer: This article is a parody and should be treated as such.

Contact: kapenyatheobserver@yahoo.com

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