By SYLVIA MWEETWA -
THE fight against early marriages in Central Province received a boost when the First Lady Esther Lungu visited the area recently.
Ms Lungu who was on tour of Itezhi-tezhi, Mumbwa and Ngabwe districts said the Government was not happy with increased cases of early marriages, pregnancies and child abuse in the province and the country as a whole.
At Itezhi tezhi boarding school, Ms Lungu said the challenges faced by the girl child needed to be addressed so that they (girls) could be assured of a bright future.
Ms Lungu, who was accompanied by Central Province Permanent Secretary, Edwidge Mutale, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Greyford Monde, Government officials and wives of ministers, said that this year alone 71 girls got pregnant while 14 were married off.
She said Gender Based Violence (GBV) and sexual abuse could not be ignored and that girls should be allowed to get quality education.
“I am happy that a law will soon be enacted that will ensure that girls and boys only marry after the age of 18,” she said.
Chieftainess Muwezwa said Ms Lungu‘s visit had raised hope that the issue of early marriages and other sexual offences would be addressed, while head teacher at the school, Chilala Nyanga said the boarding school, which was not fully operational, had 19 teachers and 326 pupils majority of which were girls.
The head teacher said that the school was using a building that used to be owned by Zesco as a boarding house, while other pupils were renting outside the school, a situation which he said was not healthy.
In Mumbwa, Ms Lungu challenged women in the country to emulate wife of Senior Chief Shakumbila who at 43 had opted to go back to school and was now doing grade 10.
She said education has no age limit and encouraged women to make use of the programme which allows school drop outs and those who fall pregnant to go back to school.
“I am happy to learn that despite her status in society, she decided to go back to school and wrote her grade nine examinations and is now in grade 10. My appeal to our men is to support and encourage their wives or relatives who are not in school to go back to school and get an education, “she said
She said it was important to empower women with education which was key to the country’s development, and that since her office has no budget allocation she depended on donations but would continue to lobby well wishers with a view of assisting women and other marginalised people in society.
“The man is the head while the woman is the neck, clearly the two need to be supported in our community and it is not too late for women to get back to school, “she said.
The First Lady directed that girls who had been married off at a tender age should be withdrawn and taken back to school and called for the arrest of people who abuse children.
The traditional leader through the his representative announced that September 8, would be celebrated every year in honour of Ms Lungu who was the first, First Lady to visit his chiefdom.
The senior chief’s wife said going back to school would allow her acquire knowledge which will enable her to discharge her duties well as wife to the chief.
At Nalusanga Secondary School Ms Lungu shed tears after school girls recited poems which focused on the challenges faced by the girl child.
The First Lady who also gave a motivational talk to the girls, could not hold back her tears after the girls highlighted the suffering that most girls go through in their communities.
A girl only identified as Linda in her poem prayed that the problem of early marriages would be addressed.
“It is clear that these issues of early pregnancies and other sexual offences are getting out of hand but this problem can only be combated through team work,” she said.
She said some girls had ended up getting pregnant because of sexual child abuse, defilement, while in some cases it was because of forced marriages and vowed to work hard to ensure girls forced into marriages are withdrawn and taken back to school.
She said the chiefs should partner with Government in stopping the acts which are getting out of hand and needs the intervention of all loving Zambians.
“Girls should be allowed to complete their education and should not be looked at as wives but as school going children who want to get an education, ” she said.
Ms Lungu donated K4,500 through the PTA for the purchase of school uniforms for vulnerable pupils. She also appealed to pupils to remain focused on education.
She also visited stands for womens clubs who showcased various products.
Ms Lungu donated 10 bags of mealie-meal to Nalusangu Secondary School and K15,000 to womens clubs in Mumbwa and asked the members to put the money to good use.
Ms Lungu who also paid a courtesy call on Chieftainess Kabulwebulwe of the Nkoya people of Mumbwa District appealed to traditional leaders to partner with Government in the fight against early marriages and other sexual vices.
The traditional leader said she was equally worried about the problem of early marriages and pregnancies but reaffirmed her commitment to deal with the vice.
In Ngabwe, Ms Lungu was happy that Chief Ngabwe was helping in fighting GBV cases in his chiefdom and that it was through such concerted efforts that issues of early marriages could be stopped.
She revealed that the Government was eager to ensure that Zambian children are protected from vices that would have a negative effect on their lives.