[By Masuzyo Chakwe in Rufunsa]
RUFUNSA District Education Board Secretary Mark Kasongo says the district last year recorded 72 teenage pregnancies and nine early marriages.
Dr Kasongo said the marriages and pregnancies took place in 26 schools.
He said statistics for 2020 were still being complied.
Dr Kasongo however said some of the girls involved were no longer married and had since returned to school.
“They are being helped very much by our guidance teachers and our chiefs are (also) helping us very much. The meetings we have with the chiefs – we have three big chiefs here in Rufunsa – we have chieftainess Mpanshya, chief Shikabeta and chief Bundabunda. These are very determined and are equal to the task. When we discuss with them, they are helping the office very much. They are discouraging this (early marriage) very much,” he said.
Dr Kasongo was speaking when FAWEZA in partnership with WLSA and support from Equality Now took journalists on a site visitation to Mazabuka, Luangwa and Rufunsa.
The NGOs are implementing the Access to Justice for Adolescent Girls in Zambia project in the three districts.
Dr Kasongo said both children who marry children and the older men who marry children are counselled and some of the children returned.
He said COVID-19 restrictions had also affected the children because some of them had nothing to do.
Dr Kasongo said the re-entry policy had helped some girls get back to school.
“… our children even if they get pregnant … sometimes it’s just from excitement, sometimes it’s from ignorance. After they give birth, we return them to school. As at now, the response from schools and from the chiefdoms is so far very good,” he said.
Dr Kasongo said following the reopening of schools after COVID-19 restrictions were eased, he and with head teachers from selected schools were trained by FAWEZA on how to sensitise and create awareness in the community, workplaces, schools and surrounding areas.
“Brief reports that are coming from the head teachers that were trained together with me are quite pleasing. The response from the children that are in school and outside, those that are intending to go back to school, is overwhelming. For example, we have places in schools like Chitemalesa, Chipeketi, Chikabeta – these are schools where big numbers of pregnancies were recorded. We were trained on the dangers of a very young girl getting into early marriages or getting pregnant, so when this information is disseminated to our girl children and the community around the schools, they are getting to know now,” he said. “These children that you see and the figures that you see are not just these figures, it has been a custom in some of these communities. Parents decide to marry their children off as a source of income. But they have come to realise now that if you send your daughter into marriage, you are bringing poverty in the house because even if you marry them off, you are just bringing problems. Anything that they want, they will be coming back to your home. Now they are realising slowly that ‘we are not doing justice’. They are able to stand in public and say ‘no, my daughter can’t get married’. Even those suitors that want to marry their daughters, they are told that ‘no, this we can’t do’ … because there are deaths that are occurring, there is no guarantee that they would give birth properly because these are minors and are not up to the task. So the parents are now realising that ‘we can’t do this’ and as a result we are stepping up our achievement as we proceed. We will continue orienting them, we are getting better and better. It may be not immediate but we can see the fruits slowly.”
Meanwhile, Dr Kasongo said when schools reopened, there was a lot of absenteeism especially for non-examination classes because some pupils had lost their uniforms.
Dr Kasongo however said the number of pupils reporting for classes had slowly began improving.
He added that the children that were almost married off during the period of the COVID-19 restrictions were back in school.
“The reason is that we also have those that had experiences before but are benefiting from the re-entry programme. Some of them, because of the counselling of the school and the community, they are able to open up and tell their friends that if they do this, it is not good and there are no benefits. They are working as peer educators amongst themselves. It is benefiting us very well,” said Dr Kasongo.