Zam­bian teen fights for the rights of chil­dren

CityPress - - News - ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka news@city­press.co.za

Margaret Mu­sonda’s cam­paign against the abuse of chil­dren in Zam­bia has drawn com­par­isons with glob­ally renowned chil­dren’s rights ac­tivist, Pak­istani Malala Yousafzai. Barely 17 years old, Mu­sonda is tipped to be­come Zam­bia’s fu­ture pres­i­dent.

Or­phaned at the age of seven, the Grade 12 pupil at Keemba Sec­ondary School, Monze Dis­trict, has be­come the face of the strug­gle against the abuse of chil­dren and a source of hope for mil­lions of mi­nors in the sub­re­gion, which is in­fa­mous for the high preva­lence of child mar­riages.

“Cam­paign­ing for the rights of chil­dren has been a sig­nif­i­cant part of me. Be­ing an or­phan has prompted me to al­ways put ex­tra ef­fort into what I do,” said Mu­sonda, the only girl among three chil­dren their par­ents left at a young age.

“Chil­dren en­dure the most vi­o­la­tions. We have to stand up and work to­gether. It must start with us,” the teenager said in Jo­han­nes­burg this week. She as­pires to en­ter pol­i­tics later in life.

Part of her ad­vo­cacy is to stop child mar­riage, which is as­so­ci­ated with high lev­els of poverty. In Zam­bia, it is seen as a ru­ral phe­nom­e­non, al­though there are re­ported cases of child mar­riages in ur­ban areas. Poverty is be­lieved to lead many par­ents to take their young daugh­ters out of school to of­fer them in mar­riage to older men in ex­change for lobola.

“The in­volve­ment of par­ents and rel­a­tives in the de­file­ment and rape of chil­dren is alarm­ing. It is dis­heart­en­ing that, most of the time, such vi­o­la­tions are swept un­der the car­pet, which com­pounds the suf­fer­ing of the chil­dren,” she said.

Mu­sonda is a chair­per­son of the Choongo Chief­dom Child Pro­tec­tion Coun­cil and a trainee reporter with a lo­cal com­mu­nity ra­dio sta­tion.

The coun­cil con­sists of girls and boys, and was formed in 2015 with sup­port from non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, tra­di­tional lead­ers and the dis­trict’s ed­u­ca­tion board.

Mu­sonda and her group have started a ra­dio pro­gramme to high­light vi­o­la­tions of chil­dren’s rights in the com­mu­nity and to cam­paign to end child mar­riages.

Com­mu­nity leader Betty Mwiza said: “I am per­son­ally as­ton­ished at Mu­sonda’s con­fi­dence to de­liver the key mes­sages and at her in-depth knowl­edge on child pro­tec­tion is­sues.

“The way she shares her thoughts and views amazes ev­ery­one who lis­tens to the pro­grammes.”

Mu­sonda re­cently rep­re­sented chil­dren at the an­nounce­ment of a cam­paign to stop child mar­riages and vi­o­lence against chil­dren in south­ern Africa. This was an ini­tia­tive by Chris­tian hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion World Vi­sion and other devel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Mu­sonda said ad­vo­cat­ing chil­dren’s rights was rough ter­rain be­cause of cen­turies-old tra­di­tional be­liefs and fear of vic­tim­i­sa­tion.

“It is scary at times,” she con­ceded. “How­ever, it has to be done.

“We have sys­tems in place to re­port and in­ves­ti­gate a case anony­mously. Some chil­dren are scared, but I en­cour­age them to re­port the vi­o­la­tions. We have been taught how to re­port. There are cen­tres es­tab­lished for that pur­pose. We can also re­port to teach­ers or neigh­bours,” said Mu­sonda.

Of­ten, the ag­gres­sors are known to the vic­tims. Florence Mulenga, spon­sor­ship fa­cil­i­ta­tor at World Vi­sion Zam­bia, said they were al­low­ing chil­dren to make their voices heard.

“We are see­ing the re­sults of this process as chil­dren are grow­ing in con­fi­dence and self-es­teem,” she said.

The cam­paign has led to laws be­ing put in place to ad­dress child mar­riage and abuse. They in­clude the Mar­riage Act, which has set the le­gal age for mar­riage at 18 for women and 21 for men. The pe­nal code makes sex­ual in­ter­course with some­one who is younger than 16 an of­fence in Zam­bia.

How­ever, these pro­vi­sions rarely ap­ply in cus­tom­ary law, where mar­riage can take place from pu­berty. It is com­mon for girls to be mar­ried off or have sex­ual re­la­tions when they are younger than 16.

Mu­sonda pointed out that, while the laws were in place, they were not be­ing im­ple­mented, lead­ing to many cul­prits es­cap­ing the might of the law.

News Africa – CAJ

AC­TIVIST Margaret Mu­sonda

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