In the south African country of Zambia, nearly a third of girls marry before they are 18, and 4% before they turn 15. In fact, Zambia’s rate of child marriage is one of the highest in the world.
According to Pascal Salimu, an officer for the UN Population Agency (UNFPA), marrying off young girls to men years their senior is a common tradition. He says:
“People [in rural areas] perceive a girl child as a source of wealth, and would rather give the girl into marriage to raise funds for educating the boy child.”
Because of this, only 40% of teenage girls that become child brides receive an education, according to UNFPA. In addition, they are more likely to become victims of sexual violence and are put at a higher risk of death or serious injury in childbirth.
Aware of the “horrific consequences” of child marriage, two former child brides, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, took the government to court in a ground-breaking case to challenge the practice.
Reuters reports that the groundbreaking case challenged the practice that is rife in the southern African nation and resulted in a monumental change. On January 20th, 2015, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court ruled for child marriage to be outlawed.
Said Mdzuru, who was married at 16 and had two children before she was 18:
“I really am happy that we have played an instrumental part in making Zimbabwe a safe place for girls.”
It is now illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be married in Zambia. The ruling said there had long been a “lack of common social consciousness” on the problems faced by girls who marry early.”
By no means is the plight to put an end to child marriage over. Worldwide, some 15 million girls are married to men their senior, likely without true consent.
According to activist Beatrice Savadye, who heads rights group ROOTS which backed the legal challenge, more needs to be done to educate communities on the dangers of child marriage in places where it has become entrenched.
Step by step, positive change will continue to result from activists’ efforts.