Child marriage survivor advances women, girls' education in Zambian communities

by Lillian Banda

KAPIRI MPOSHI, Zambia, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Maureen Chanda, 24, of Ntalasha village in Kapiri Mposhi, central Zambia, is paving the way for a brighter future for girls in her community.

At the age of 16, Chanda was married off to a man 11 years her senior. For seven long years, she found herself trapped in a cycle of abuse and unimaginable torture. On several occasions, her husband, a commercial farmer, denied her decent food and made her work in the fields for many hours under harsh weather conditions. Whenever she objected, she was beaten with a whip used to correct oxen.

In December 2023, Chanda found the resolve to break free from the chains of her abusive marriage. Her resilience and determination saw her return to school in February this year. She now attends grade eight at Chambulumina Secondary School in rural Kapiri Mposhi.

"I re-enrolled in school because I did not want to continue in the same cycle of abuse and limited opportunities," Chanda said. "Going back to school almost 10 years after dropping out in eighth grade has given me the opportunity to create a better future for myself and my children."

Since returning to school, Chanda has made it a point to encourage girls at her school and in her village to pursue education and refuse to be married off at a tender age.

"I usually take advantage of the 20 minutes' break time at school to share my experience and challenges I faced as a young bride and mother. I encourage my classmates and other girls to focus on studies so that they can have a better future," she said.

Now the mother of two boys, aged five and two respectively, Chanda also utilizes water collection points to talk to younger women in her village about the importance of education in advancing the well-being of girls and families.

"Water collection points present great opportunities for interacting with young women who come to draw water," she said. "I use that opportunity to encourage those that have dropped out of school to consider re-enrolling ... with the free education policy now in place."

Chanda's commitment to education is not only transforming her own life but also inspiring a new generation of girls and young women in Ntalasha village, like Mervis Mweemba. "Maureen's resilience has given us hope and the determination to pursue our education, despite the challenges we face. She has shown us that we have the potential to rewrite our futures," said Mweemba, 23, who looks forward to being in school again after learning about Chanda's story.

Tubombelepamo, a community support organization operating in Kapiri Mposhi, praises Chanda for taking the step of re-enrolling in school and encourages other young women to follow suit. "Her story encourages communities to prioritize girls' education and to break the cycle of early marriage," said Tubombelepamo executive director Rodrick Nyendwa.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one-sixth that among girls.

Girls who marry before turning 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. They have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down to their own children.

Furthermore, child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth increases. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends, taking a heavy toll on their mental health.

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