I do not know his name!
The out side was almost freezing from the cold, I almost had a running nose due to the cold that month of May. I was excited to be part of an amazing group heading for rural experience in the west part of our country. It was a wonderful experience as we mingled with a lot of expecting mothers attending their anti natal visits
I was glad to be interacting with these women from all walks of life, most of which were married to farmers.
The sad part was that most of these women walked/travelled long distance to access their maternal health, most of them stressed the importance of these services(maternal services).Most of them had no nearby clinics or they were referred to the biggest health facility in that area. Most women came with bicycles as a mode of transport ,whereas others got on public transport However most women walked because they had no transport money to pay the fares or no transport was available that day
The most interesting part in this scenario were how men escorted their wives in large numbers for antennal services.. This is rarely the case in urban areas as most women are left alone to attend the maternal health services without their spouses as most of their husbands are very busy or have no time for such women issues as they call them.
However among those faces ;were faces too young to embrace the status of motherhood.
As I and my fellow colleagues continued to interact with these women, getting their history I noticed something very strange.
A shy dark faced girl entered as I called her name, I asked her name just to verify as well as clarify if she was the one I called and that she was not in the wrong room.
She responded that her name was Margaret (not her real name); surprised as I was I asked her how old her pregnancy was, since she was coming for the first time to her antenatal checkup.
Am not sure, she responded, we had a chat until we arrived at the number of months for her pregnancy.
But how old are you? Was my other question? She quickly responded 14 years old,
Are you married, I asked her, she replied yes, am married, she told me she got married the previous year.
What’s your husband name?
She murmured and slowly said I do not know his name, Let me go and ask him in the waiting room.
Her 29 year old husband was in the waiting room with the rest of the people who came for antenatal.
But how come you do not know your husband name I asked her; I was getting worried and curious; how on earth did she get married to a man she does not even know his first or last name.
Shy as she was, she slowly dropped her head, facing on the floor, she openly narrated her story.
As a young girl, Margaret rarely went to school because of the long distance that she had to endure as a younger girl, she eventually dropped out of school. She lived with her parents who were peasant farmers and only cultivated for comsumption. One day as she was doing her house chaos, her parents called her to greet a visitor, who had visited them that day. It was the first time, she was seeing this visitor; she quickly walked to greet this visit who looked very strange with a big smile on his face, upon greeting him she went away. The next time she saw this visitor was the day she was informed that this stranger was her husband and that she must get her clothing and she was leaving with him, to go and start a new life with him. This man had already paid her bride prize and there was nothing she could do but to go with him.
The man a bricklayer lived within the neighborhood, and had discussed all about his plans to marry Margaret to her family. Margret had no slight idea about this man, where he came from, nor his name .At only 14, she could not refuse his parents orders and had to take up the role of a wife even if she had years of childhood to enjoy. Soon Margret will be a mother; she as a child who still some one to look up to, will be a mother looking after her fellow child.
Although Margret would have loved to refuse, there was no one to back her; she probably knew nothing about organization speaking up for children like her. Hence thousands of girls especially in rural areas have remained to suffer violence at the hands of their parents, families because they are may be perceived as a source of wealthy. The majority of girls go into marriages because they have no choice and have not heard of any one who can be of help to them even if they were to refuse to enter into early marriages.
Most girls are forced into married as a way of earning some material things like money or goods like cattle even when they have not reached the age for marriage.
While some organizations are working tirelessness to ensure that girl child attains higher education, there is need and more efforts to sensitive the rural sector on the importance of the girl child education. I feel there is need to hold more rural meeting with the rural community leaders such as chiefs and headmen, parents educating them on the dangers of early marriage and the negative impact it has on girls.
Most young girls do have challenges even in childbearing which can even lead to serious complication like miscarriage, cesarean sections, fetal death as well as maternal death. Physical violence as well as emotional violence are experienced by these girls as they cannot understand the demands of marriage. Most young girls especially in rural areas will endured the hard life of working in the farm, whilst nursing their fellow babies.
In the olden days a girl was a symbol of pride because, she would bring a lot of wealthy upon marriage .And this has continued in many rural areas as the poverty levels increase more girls are forced into marriage as soon as they reach puberty.
Although I do not condemn the bride price, but it should not be used as a source of income especially for the young girls who might have a bright future ahead of them.
About 8 percent of girls aged 15 were married by 2004 here. The legal age of marriage here is 21 years according to a presentation by Abigail Musonda.
There is need to ensure that both parents and girls are educated on the dangers of early marriage. These young girls like Margaret who is married to a man almost 15 years older than her is not spared of HIV and other forms of violence.
The experience I had with Margaret has left a big challenge on my part,I do wish I had done something to help her but I could not as I could not trace her area ,where she stayed with a stranger ,now her husband she barely knew. But I hope one day I would help other young girls from been forced into an early marriage like Margrate.I hope to reach out to the rural girls and talk to them about such practices and also talk to parents about how they are exploiting their children when an opportunity arises.