It’s a hot September afternoon as the crowd gathers under a huge African Mukuyu tree to witness a wedding between 30 year old Mutaka Chintuka and 16 year old Mandalena Kapenya- a grade nine pupil at Chinemu Primary school.
However, this is not a real wedding, but one displayed in role play to portray the vice of early marriages in Lufwanyama district, situated 456 kilometres from Zambia’s capital Lusaka.
Mandalena is clad in a white wedding dress, her young youthful face well obscured beneath the veil as she and her “husband to be” walk straight into the centre of the crowd to take their vows. The day is a special one because it is not often that the crowd witnesses a western style wedding, despite the area having so many traditional child marriage ceremonies. The Irony of all this however, is that in real life, Mandalena has been a victim of the pressure of early child marriage herself.
She dropped out of school at fourteen years when she was in grade seven, after being impregnated by a man older than her. Mandalena was in the process of officially marrying the father of her baby when her baby died after a short illness. The demise of the baby, unfortunately, appeared to be a blessing in disguise for her because marriage talks were immediately halted.
Through Save the Children’s child protection committee we were able to intervene in the girl’s situation, providing Mandalena with advice and support whilst talking to her parents about the importance of education and ensuring that Mandalena was re-enrolled in school.
The committee caregivers stressed that every child has a right to education regardless of their gender. Mandalena re-enrolled in school at Chinemu primary school and is currently writing her grade 9 final examinations.She has now begun to share her story as part of a community sensitisation initiative in order to discourage other young girls from falling into a similar trap. She has also become a child advocate, speaking on behalf of her peers and representing them in the community’s Child Protection Committee.
“Many parents do not realise that educating a girl child is very important. It does not occur to them that once they educate a girl child, she will come back and take care of them in future. The parents in this community must be sensitised in order for them to realise that educating a child is a good investment into the child’s future” says Mandalena.
Thanks to the Investment in Children Child protection Committee Mandalena is back on the right track and in control of her life.