Teenage girls in mining districts are being encouraged to resist early marriage, and instead focus on getting an education.
“An education means they’ve got a shot at a career and a fulfilling life,” says Bruce Lewis, CSR manager at FQM’s Kansanshi Mine in North-Western province. “An adolescent marriage can wreck that completely.”
Marriages between girls who have barely reached puberty, and older men, remain entrenched in certain rural communities not just in Zambia, but throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
In an article on the subject, the New York Times wrote: “The consequences of these forced marriages are staggering: adolescence and schooling cut short; early pregnancies and hazardous births; adulthood often condemned to subservience.”
Lewis says that where it can, Kansanshi mine uses its influence, and the assistance of various community stakeholders, to stop such marriages and get the girls involved back into school.
CSR Manager Joel Bwalya recalls the day he took a group of local girls to visit local government offices, including the Civic Centre. It was their first exposure to anything remotely resembling a career.
“You can sit in that chair and work on that computer, or you can go and marry someone in the bush,” he told them. “The choice is yours. Go to school and excel!”
He invited them all out for lunch afterwards. “We changed many minds that day,” he says.
FQM’s Lewis also has an interesting tale about how he once took a group of school girls to visit Solwezi airport, and then “tricked” them into boarding one of the company’s aircraft. The excited girls sat down inside, not knowing that Lewis had arranged for the pilot to take them for a short flight around the area. “Even with the door closed and the engines running, I could still hear them screaming with excitement! When they landed later, the look on their faces was indescribable. It was like their lives had been changed.”
“Mines use their influence to get girls back into school”
Barrick Lumwana also hammers home the importance of education for young girls, and recently funded and built a science laboratory at Mukinge Girls Secondary School, the only girls’ boarding high school in North-Western province. Welcoming the initiative, the leading chief of the area, Senior Chief Kasempe, told Solwezi Today, he was “distressed” to hear of parents marrying off young girls. “We want our children to be educated,” he said.
Child marriage is a problem acknowledged by the Zambian government. In December 2015, in partnership with the African Union, it organised the “First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa”.
In a nod to the efforts of the mines, the Lusaka conference heard a call by Plan International, the global children’s development organization.
“Education is one of the most significant factors for delaying the age that girls marry,” said Roland Angerer, Plan International’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “It is essential that we promote education and encourage dialogue if we want to change social norms and attitudes that perpetuate child marriage.”