Plan Ireland is advocating for increased knowledge of contraception and sexual health amongst girls, which can help tackle child marriage, via a new film for Valentine’s Day.
Plan is working with young people in Zambia, such as teenage couple Purity, 16, and Saviour, 18, who married when Purity was just 15, to raise awareness of the issue of early and forced marriage.
When Purity became pregnant, the young couple tied the knot because of society pressure.
Although they are in love, they admit in the film – Young Love… It’s Complicated – that more knowledge about contraception would have kept them both in school.
“I didn’t realise that I would get pregnant if I had sex,” says Purity. “I had no information about it – no-one had spoken to me about it. My husband was also in school but he had sat his grade 9 exam. I wanted to be educated and get a job where I can look after my family. I wanted to be a nurse.”
“I regret having kids at such a young age,” says Saviour. “A number of my friends have also fallen in this predicament – I wasn’t the first one. I really loved school.
“My ambition when I left school was to be an accountant or a doctor. That dream is now gone because I’m married.”
Globally, it is estimated that 15 million girls – some as young as 8 – are married each year, robbing them of their childhood. Some are forced to get married because they fall pregnant, while others get married because of pressure from society.
According to Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign, early and forced marriage can force girls out of education and into a life of poor prospects, with increased risk of violence, abuse, ill health or death.
Purity now makes a living by helping run a shop thanks to a Girls Economic Empowerment Project (GEEP) run by Plan.
The programme provides scholarships for vocational training, counselling, business skills and entrepreneurship training to participants, as well as lobbying for their rights.
“I’ve learned how a girl has the right to even start up her own business,” she says. “Before I joined the GEEP group I just stayed at home.
“In the shop we sell sugar, salt, salad and biscuits. Last Friday GEEP received chicks and we were trained on how to look after the chicks.
“We also work together growing groundnuts, cassava. We sell some and then with the money we get, we can buy things we need for the house.”
Esther Cumba, Programme Unit Manager of Plan International Zambia says: “A lot of girls fall pregnant in this area because lack of adequate information about sexual reproductive health.
“Of course it’s a challenge because people view issues of family planning or use of condoms and all these other things with different perceptions.
“It begins with the leaders themselves – they do not fully understand because they also have the mandate of preserving the culture.”
Plan aims to provide a holistic approach, by increasing girls’ knowledge of contraception and sexual health, educating communities about the dangers of early and forced marriage, then providing an alternative, so girls are able to still go to school or make a living for themselves.