End early marriages and empower the girl child “We are the world, we are the children.”
In 1985, various artists in the United States of America collaborated to record one of the world's most famous songs “We are the world” under the group USA 4 Africa.
Although this song was written with the idea of fundraising to feed and relieve starving people in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, its lyrics transcend the boundaries of famine – refer to the plight to protect children’s rights.
Children are individuals and therefore have equal rights with the adult members of the human family.
It is unfortunate that their rights are violated across the globe, every single day, leaving children at a disadvantage.
The Girl Child
The most disadvantaged child, especially in developing countries is the girl child.
Accordingly, 11 October 2012 was officially chosen by the United Nations General Assembly as the ‘International Day of the Girl Child.’
This year, for the first time, the world celebrated and commemorated the Day of the Girl Child.
Officiating at a workshop held at Roma Girls Secondary School, United Nations Resident Coordinator Joyce Cole explained that the Day themed; 'End Early Marriages' was necessary as it would help curtail harmful social norms that impact greatly on the lives of girls.
This year’s theme stems from the high levels of early marriages amongst the girl child in developing countries.
“Early marriage is largely as a result of the subordinate status of girls and women,” Ms Cole declared.
According to Ms Cole, low levels of schooling, poverty, static religious and cultural ideas are some of the root causes of a lot of underage marriages.
“Child marriage is a violation of Human Rights and jeopardises the health of young mothers,” she detailed.
Ms Cole revealed that according to UN surveys, 90 percent of girls in developing countries who give birth between the ages of 15 and 19 are married.
She expressed that low levels of schooling are among the leading causes and as such, education is one of the best strategies that can be used to protect girls.
“The United Nations has come up with a number of ideas for the prevention of early marriages such as the enactment of appropriate legislation to increase the minimum legal age of marriage, in various developing countries, to 18,” Ms Cole detailed.
She said other ideas include campaigning heavily for the change of harmful social norms, promoting supportive family units and livelihood skills so that the disadvantaged girls can support themselves in cases where they do not have an adequate support system.
“No culture is static and it is becoming an increased realisation that girls are just as valuable as boys,” she added.
Zambia and the Girl Child
In the same vein, Gender and Child Development Permanent Secretary, Edwidge Mutale expressed concern at the high levels of early marriages in Zambia adding that early marriages lead to a vicious cycle of poverty.
Ms Mutale explained that the Zambian government is taking measures to reduce levels of early marriages, which according to UNICEF reports, currently stand at 46.1 percent.
Government has in the past signed a number of treaties such as the Convention on the Right of a Child (1989), Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Anti- GBV Act and is working on domesticating them.
Ms Mutale extended an appeal to larger community to be aware of these available provisions so that they could better protect the girl child and women at large.
The girl child and Zambian Law
So many offences are committed against the girl child especially in the home where she’s supposed to be protected.
Acting Deputy Chief Justice, Florence Mumba revealed at the workshop that the current legal system is being reviewed so as to ensure that the rights of the girl child are protected.
Justice Mumba explained that suggestions that trials ought to be held in camera regardless of the age of the victim in relation to cases of abuse against girls and women are under discussion.
She further expressed sadness that most offences are sexual offences and that it is necessary to look at the immediate needs of victims such as protection against perpetrators as well as shelter where the victims of abuse can seek refuge.
Justice Mumba explained that with changing cultural trends, women now have more choices and emphasised the need to get a good education as one such choice.
Indeed, it is a duty of everyone to make sure the rights of the Girl Child are protected. In the words of Bob Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, “investing in women is not only just good social policy; it is "smart economics."