IN whatever form it may come, child marriage is detrimental to the welfare of the girl-child.
Child marriage is like selling a child into slavery.
Under the customary law, once a girl attains puberty, she is assumed to be ready for marriage and with the consent of the parents, she could be married off.
But in every girl or boy are dreams. Unfortunately, those dreams are often never realised because of the oppressive conditions around them.
Child marriages, better off known as early marriages, are a concern in Zambia, especially in rural areas where they are rampant.
They are indeed a common African problem, rooted in ancient and permitted complex cultural and traditional practices, which are no doubt retrogressive.
Such practices continue to rob girls of a bright future. Being married young, at the expense of completing school, is like bondage. The vulnerable girls often have no way of realising their potential.
In the case of Zambia, the minimum legal age for marriage in Zambia is 18, and parental consent is required if a girl or boy is between 16 and 17.
Anyone under 16 is a minor, and defilement of a minor is a serious offence, punishable by imprisonment of up to 25 years.
Although this is what the law dictates, the situation on the ground is different. Many do not see the value of education and the rewards that come with it due to lack of exposure in villages.
A girl would rather be given in marriage for money or bunch of animals to add to the family wealth.
Zambia has 72 known tribes and each of these tribes has their different customs and traditions.
As Chief Nzamane of the Ngoni people of Eastern Province once put it, there is need for chiefs from across the country to speak out against this practice.
Research indicates that, in terms of adolescent health, teenage pregnancy is associated with higher morbidity and mortality for both the mother and child and also has adverse social consequences.
According to the 2007 Zambia Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) for example, girls have earlier sex debuts than the boys and they are less likely to use condoms.
For this reason, it is estimated that 28 per cent of young females aged 15 to 19 years have begun child bearing, 22 percent have had a child, while six per cent are pregnant with their first child.
Young females also test more about 22 per cent for HIV than the males who could be estimated at 10 per cent.
Paramount Chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba people in Kasama District is, therefore, spot on for calling for a review of some traditional practices that seemingly contribute to teenage pregnancies and early child marriages.
We are elated that the Paramount Chief has come out bravely to call on various concerned stakeholders to collaborate and relook at the cultural practices which to a large extent prove to be the root causes of the increasing cases of early pregnancies and marriages.
We join stakeholders such as Paramount Chief Chitimukulu in calling for a review of some traditional practices that outwardly add to teenage pregnancies and early child marriages.
There is need to save the girl child from early marriages.