Chipasha’s bald walk out of early marriage

AT age 15, she dropped out of school to get married to an army sergeant 20 years older than her.

Her family was experiencing financial problems and as such, her father was happy to receive K300 ($30) as bride price from him.

Chipasha says she was married off by her father when her mother had already passed on.

She is the last born girl in her family.

“My husband abused me physically, emotionally and sexually, even when I was pregnant with his child. Being very young, I found it very difficult to stand up to him even when I knew what he was doing was wrong,” says former child bride Chipasha Iliamupu.

“A lot was going through my mind in the marriage because what was on the ground was the direct opposite of what I was taught and expected. I couldn’t think of running away because during my initiation I was taught to be secretive about issues of my matrimonial home. I was not even allowed to reveal anything even to my closest relative or the one who initiated me.”

Chipasha says she ran the home fairly well according to how she was taught.

She says in her culture, a woman is taught about marriage immediately after reaching puberty.

“That’s still the trend in the villages,” she says.

Chipasha, from Kaoma district in Western Province, shares how life skills taught through a “safe space” within her school helped her assert herself and claim her rights against child marriage.

Chipasha is now 25.

She says her reality changed a year later when she participated in a child marriage awareness raising activity in her village, which encouraged her to return to school and complete her education.

“Despite resistance from my husband, I was determined to take action to fulfil my dreams,” she says.

She says her husband’s reaction towards her leaving was not okay but she says he had no control over her since she had already made up her mind.

“I re-enrolled at a local secondary school and I was happy to learn that YWCA had a safe space for girls within the school premises, which empowers girls like me to claim our rights and fulfil their potential. With the help of our mentor, I finally moved out of my abusive marriage, together with my baby. By the time I completed high school, I had acquired valuable knowledge and skills from the safe space. I learnt about my human rights and built my confidence to the level where I was able to resist child marriage in pursuit of my dreams,” she says.

In Zambia, safe spaces have emerged as a key strategy for protection and empowerment of adolescent girls.

Chipasha says safe spaces are school clubs where girls are mentored on how to keep safe from abuse and to care for themselves.

“When I left the abusive marriage, I kept up with a relative and joined the safe space which was in my school,” she says.

UNFPA says since 2014, over 663 safe spaces have been established through the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage supported by UKAid, European Union, Canada and the Netherlands.

Implemented by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Safe Space programme is aimed at equipping girls affected and at risk of child marriage with life skills that can enable them resist child marriage, deal with challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, and support a healthy transition from childhood to adulthood. In 2014, Chipasha completed high school and was among the highest scoring students in her examination class.

Based on her outstanding performance, she was awarded a full government scholarship to study Linguistics and African Languages in the School of Education at the University of Zambia and is expecting to graduate next month.

Using her past experiences and knowledge acquired through the safe space, Chipasha is now encouraging other girls affected and at risk of child marriage through public talks and group discussions at various fora in Zambia as well as other countries in the region.

“Today, I have a message for girls who are caught up in the same situation I was in 10 years ago. I urge you all to speak up, learn about your rights and seek to get back to school. Time has come for you to stand up and say no to child marriage. Once you are educated, you can be whatever you want to be – a doctor, engineer or a lawyer -anything you want to be! You will also have the power to make a difference in the lives of other people and contribute to our country’s development. I am a living testimony of this. To parents, I would like to urge you to just let girls be girls, not brides,” he says.

Chipasha says she still believes in love, and believes good men still exist though she says her experience changed her perspective on marriage.

She says girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy should go back to school.

“Marriage isn’t a thing. Such people must make decisions and seek to get back to school so they live their dreams. Education is the truest husband who knows no abuse of any sort. I left my marriage and got back to school, they too are not exceptional,” says Chipasha.

“My advice goes to those people who think once a girl child is married or has a child can no longer be productive in life or in school, to kindly start viewing us as recyclable garbage as I am a testimony to that.”

She says she has trained as an educator.

“My intentions are stand up and speak out against child marriages. Wherever I go, I’ll advocate to end child marriage which is modern slavery of our age,” says Chipasha.

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