“She was sixteen, fifteen, something like that. She had these dreams and aspirations. But her family didn’t have the funds to send her to school. So she had to stop. And then they gave her off to marriage. I put myself in that position…. it was not a good thing. That's why I'm speaking out,” said 17 year-old Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is one of the 30 girls from a girls’ after-school club based in Lusaka Girls School who decided to produce a song, “We are Girls, Not Brides”, about a challenge currently facing a large number of their peers in Zambia: child marriage.
I went out to Lusaka, Zambia, to film their song, hear their story, and find out what made them decide to write this song, and why they think young people are key to ending child marriage.
This song was initially a recorded by one of my colleagues on their smart phone during a project visit organised by Continuity-Zambia Organization, a member of Girls Not Brides.
Continuity-Zambia Organization set up a girls club at Lusaka Girls School which plays an important role in providing peer-to-peer support for girls facing pressure at home to get married or teenage pregnancy. Issues can then be escalated to teachers or school guidance councillors, who work closely with families and girls to find solutions. One of the ways the club discusses sensitive issues with young girls is through music and poetry.
Faith, the lead singer in the music video, wrote the words to this song. In the weeks running up to getting it professionally recorded, she and her 29 other classmates, stayed behind after school to rehearse and make sure their harmonies were perfected and the words were clearly articulated.
Getting this group of sassy, determined, confident young girls to sing in front of a camera over and over again was no easy task. Often they would forget the camera can see everything, including someone texting their friends to tell them they are starring in a music video.
But their sheer determination to make sure the video was perfect was inspiring. Take after take, the girls would have the same, if not more, energy to make sure they all did Faith’s song and its message justice. This was collective action at its best.
These girls want their peers to feel confident enough to say no to child marriage and yes to staying in school. For Faith, everyone, including young girls, families, communities, and the government, has a choice as to whether or not child marriage is still practiced in Zambia.
“Life is all about making choices, and it is the right choices that determine who you will really be”. The hope is that this song will remind girls, their families and their country, that young girls have a voice which must be listened to.
With 42 percent of girls married before the age of 18, Zambia has the 15th highest rate of child marriage in the world, though this could actually be higher due to the low birth registration ratemaking it difficult to know the exact age of girls.
Poverty, traditional practices, lack of access to education are the main factors stagnating any progress in lowering the numbers of girls marrying young in Zambia. Over 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and some families see child marriage as an opportunity to benefit financially from the bride price they receive for their daughter. Young girls themselves can also see marriage as a way of escaping familial poverty, but grass is rarely greener on the other side. Young girls often end up pregnant, and vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
With almost 200 million people aged 15-24, Africa has the youngest population in the world which is both a challenge, but also an opportunity. The fact is, only if we involve young girls and boys in our efforts to end child marriage do we stand a chance of bringing the actual numbers down.
Everyone plays a part in allowing child marriages to continue, but everyone can also do something to make it stop. If there was one message Faith would want you to take from this song, it’s simple, “speak out, speak out” against child marriage. Remember you have a voice.
In the time it has taken to read this article 43 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds