By ARTHUR MWANSA and SITEMBILE SIWAWA
FIRST Lady Christine Kaseba says Zambia should work towards criminalising child marriage to end the vice.
And visiting UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening has pledged her country’s to support Zambia in the quest to end child marriages.
Dr Kaseba said this on Wednesday night in Lusaka when she officially opened a three-day national symposium on ending child marriage.
The symposium comes to a close today under the theme ‘Let Girls be Girls not Brides: Zero tolerance to child marriage’.
Dr Kaseba said: “Much as we want to prevent this practice, we have to consider the plight of our children that are already victims of the exploitative and abusive practice of child marriage. Perpetration of abuse of children should strongly be shamed through criminalising such acts.
“Those engaging in such ought to face the law, as this will increase the protection boundaries for our children”.
Dr Kaseba also said social protection systems need to prioritise the needs of children that are victims of child marriages and those that are most vulnerable to the scourge.
“The safety of our children being removed from marriages needs to be taken highly into consideration if the quest for curbing child marriage is to be successful.
“We need to provide safe houses and make, especially our girls. aware of such facilities in order to provide sanctuary to those whose parents may not want back,” she said.
Dr Kaseba also called on the Minister of Gender and Child Development Inonge Wina to ensure that the Gender Based Violence Act becomes reality to guarantee the safety of the girl child.
She also said the girl child must be encouraged to stay in school so that she does not become susceptible to uncalled for pressure for marriage, adding that current education policies need to reflect this quest.
Dr Kaseba said apart from jeopardising a girl’s health and increasing her risk of being a victim of violence and abuse, child marriage negatively affects the next generation.
“As we are reminded by many scientific publications including our own demographic and health survey of 2017, the age of the mother at birth is a key determinant of child survival,” she said.
Dr Kaseba said the Patriotic Front (PF) government is resolute on the importance of education as demonstrated in the national strategies for developing the education sector.
In her key note address, Ms Greening said the UK will walk down the path of development with Zambia to ending child marriage.
Ms Greening said it is also gratifying that Zambia is the first country in Africa to launch the campaign to ending child marriage.
She is also pleased that the country’s traditional leadership has shown commitment towards ending the vice.
Meanwhile, Dr Kaseba says a lot still needs to be done to increase the number of couples accessing voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services together.
And Zambia Emory HIV Research Project (ZEHRP) has tested at least 200,000 couples for HIV/AIDS since 2006.
Speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations for ZEHRP in Lusaka yesterday, Dr Kaseba said that couple VCT is still an innovation that facilitates male involvement and engagement in healthcare.
She said the number of couples getting tested for HIV/AIDS remains relatively low “at 10 per cent and as a result, they do not know that they are in a discordant relationship and they do not use condoms.”
Dr Kaseba commended ZEHRP for not only providing HIV/AIDS VCT but also the integration of family planning.
She is however, happy with the HIV vaccine trials being undertaken by ZEHRP which she described as encouraging.
Minister of Community, Mother and Child Development Emerine Kabanshi thanked ZEHRP for helping build a strong nation by engaging in couple HIV/AIDS testing.
“What you are doing now is supplementing Government’s efforts and thereby bringing communities closer to Government,” she said.
And ZEHRP director Susan Allen said the organisation intends to scale up the number of couples testing for HIV/AIDS by 90 per cent.
Zambia Daily Mail