[By Masuzyo Chakwe in Mazabuka]
THE FORUM for Africa Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) neighbourhood watch in Chief Hanjalika says distance and lack of transport remain the major challenges hampering the retrieval of young girls from marriages.
FAWEZA neighbourhood watch secretary Fabian Mweemba said most of the early marriages were located in far-flung areas, making it a challenge.
He said the job of the neighbourhood watch which consists of 10 men was to retrieve children from marriages but this has been affected due to the lack of transport.
Mweemba was speaking when FAWEZA in partnership with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) with support from Equality Now took journalists on a site visitation to Mazabuka, Luangwa and Rufunsa districts where they are implementing an Access to Justice for Adolescent Girls in Zambia pilot project. The journalists visited Mainza Primary School where the two-year project is being implemented.
“Our work is to retrieve children from marriages, most of them are located in far flung areas. Normally we walk to these places to access the children. When it is too far, we book motorbikes and it is very expensive. So we collect donations or put money together in order to book these motorbikes to have access to children in these far-flung places,” he said. “So it is challenging because of the expenses. We saw the need to be assisted using bicycles because we don’t need to put fuel in them. And if that happens we will be grateful because our burdens will be lessened. When we go to fish out these girls, we don’t have equipment to handcuff the husbands. So we made a request to authorities to be assisted with these handcuffs so that we can arrest the perpetrators, especially the husbands. So that’s the biggest issue we are appealing from FAWEZA.”
And neighnourhood watch treasurer Cornhill Mweemba said usually when they go to retrieve the girls from the marriages, both the girl and the boy resist.
“Usually they resist and that is why we use force. Both refuse and when they refuse, we take both to the police. We have retrieved five from early marriages this year. We take the boys to the police. Some are bigger while some are of the same age,” said Mweemba.
Meanwhile, FAWEZA mother mentors chairperson Sharon Chaaba said the duty of the mother mentors was to look after young girls and encourage them with school.
Chaaba said they also teach the girls about the dangers that come with early marriages, including diseases that come as a result of early marriages since most of them have no knowledge of such things.
“We also teach them how to respect the elderly and how to dress decently. We also tell them to bring reports of the challenges they encounter in their homes including challenges they face while going to school whilst being pregnant. We are very united with these children because we help them to be free,” she said. “We usually identify them within the schools including the communities. We usually go round the communities looking for girls and carrying out advocacy work. So we bring those children back to school.”
Chaaba said there were still some in the communities, both those who were pregnant and those who were married and pregnant, who would be returning to school.
“Yes it is challenging to get these girls out of early marriages because most of them are aggressive. Some of these young girls really want to come back to school but then their parents are the ones that trade them for wealth,” said Chaaba. “Most of them threaten to take away their lives when we try to force them out of their marriages so we involve the police, traditional leaders for parents are force their children into early marriages. We counsel the parents but have not had any parent arrested. We also keep encouraging the parents until they are convinced that early marriage is not good.”