As poverty bites hard, it is easy to fool oneself, that marrying a better off person may just be the solution to your poverty. A young man (any male above 18 years and not older than 40) suddenly starts thinking “if only I can find a rich woman, whatever their age, I will marry them and escape my poverty!” A young female (any female above 18 years and not older than 40 years) starts dreaming and doing everything possible to find and attract rich men, whatever their age. This is the surest route to a life of self-inflicted enslavement and potential lifelong gender based and domestic violence, in all their evil forms.

A boy, still a child(any boy younger than 18 years is a child, for me, whatever social and cultural status they may have inherited at birth, or may have acquired after birth), for whatever reasons including social and cultural pressures, accusation of making a female pregnant and the illusion of “falling in love” who decides to get married condemns himself to a life of self-inflicted potential lifelong poverty, personal underdevelopment and almost inevitable gender based domestic abuse of their “wife”.

A girl is a child (again any girl younger than 18 years is a child, for me, whatever their inherent or acquired social and cultural status, including if they are actually married already!) who must not seek or accept to marry for whatever reasons including and especially so that she may not “bring shame upon her parents and extended family” because she has become pregnant, or because all her friends are married and she feels she must fit in with them.

I am very comfortable making these assertions because evidence is all around us, in all our cities, towns and villages – any marriage whose foundations are an attempt to escape poverty through marrying a rich or better off spouse offers such an escapee as a potential slave to the one they marry. Any marriage entered into because of peer pressure, social and cultural coercion, any accusations including breaking the virginity and making pregnant of the other person has a very weak, extremely shaky foundation potentially incapable of weathering the storms all successful, reasonably happy, loving and caring marriages endure.

Our Zambian laws allow any adult 21 years and older to marry. Simultaneously, it is customary, in most parts of Zambia and among many of our linguistic and cultural groups, to consider any young person between 16 and 18 as potentially fit to marry, or get married. I also know that age is in fact not necessary the only determining factor for marriage in most of our African cultures. Puberty in girls and going through the necessary female initiation practices once a girl starts menstruation signals the transition from childhood to becoming a female able to be married.

Graduating from being playful and “childish” and beginning to assume adult responsibilities at the onset of puberty signifies the start of a lifelong transition into adulthood for boys. Some cultural and linguistic groups in Zambia do have special initiation ceremonies for boys, as puberty sets in. A beard and the necessary muscular changes combined with the self-confidence these bodily changes bring easily signal the onset of the transition from a boy into a man, and age as such.

I recognise and respect all these attitudes, cultural and our traditional demarcations of infancy, childhood, young adulthood, and maturity which are not necessarily age dependant. Traditionally in fact marriage is a signifier of maturity and entry into adulthood, for many of our cultures and traditions, not age. These ways of defining the stages of human development are what define us, historically, traditionally and culturally. They are very strong in our villages where colonialism and post independent urban Zambia has not yet fully assaulted our past! In our cultural settings before colonialism, we understood and suffered poverty differently from today, in our money dominated environment. African communities had their own independent economies and were fully connected to their land and natural environments. These values and ways of demarcating the phases of development and growth of a person were very well suited to our ways of life then. Today they are a barrier to our collective national development and the possibility of evenly spreading the benefits of global positive human development.

It is how colonialism and our 58 years of independence have trapped us in mass excruciating poverty, critical shortage of work for the majority of Zambians especially young people, and the situation where a tiny majority are very rich when the majority are very poor throughout the country that I offer the advice to all children and Zambians to desist from marrying as a means to escape poverty, address peer, social or cultural pressures and especially not to solve the problem of pregnancies out of marriage and their social and cultural consequences.

It is impossible, as a people, and a country, to solve the questions of mass national hunger and poverty, terrible shortage of work and extreme inequalities and general backwardness which have been with us since the British South African Company rule of our land, the period of the mean, selfish and extremely racist British colonialism, and the entire period of our independence, if children (anyone below 18 years) and young adults (anyone above 18 and below 40 years, for me) continue the practices of forced, early and child marriages in Zambia. Such marriages are not the solutions to our dire predicament of generalised deep and prolonged multi-faceted poverty; to the contrary such marriages are also contributing greatly to keeping us poor, as individuals and as a country.

Now, I know you are young, and may believe quite honestly that you have found a lifelong soul mate when you are under 18 years, or below 40. I don’t blame you. Afterall, we are a country that is afraid to openly talk about all the gory graphic details of sex, money in a love relationship and everything else which make many young people lonely, sad, feeling uncared for, unloved and thoroughly lost as far as confronting our dire economic plight is concerned. Under these circumstances, dreaming together with a potential soul mate how, whether you are in a village or in town you are going to confront the world as man and wife looks quite promising. You may be wrong, so very wrong!

The national divorce rate in Zambia, domestic violence, HIH/AIDS, pregnancy complications and sheer social, cultural and financial costs of sustaining a successful marriage and fruitfully raising a family all demand a careful examination of what is actually possible for you, before you plunge headlong into a marriage in impoverished Zambia.

Zambia needs its children and young people to complete preschool, primary, secondary, college and university education as the case may be, fight to become personally independent and capable of looking after oneself and therefore able to truly love (love is giving, not just receiving!) and then, only then, does genuine love and marriage become a real prospect capable of being successful.

Our national poverty, especially in our rural areas, is also because we have failed, 58 years after 1964 our independence year, to improve the quality of life of Zambians in these rural areas, and we have trapped them instead into early, forced and child marriages. Poverty, in this way, marries poverty and perpetuates it.

All Zambian children and young people, in our urban and rural areas, have a right and duty to think together and organise to reject and overthrow social, cultural, economic and political practices and systems in and outside our government which condemn them to poverty through forced, early and child marriages. Our children and young people must demand an education system that empowers them to grow into fruitful independent adulthood capable of truly knowing, respecting, taking responsibility, caring and loving themselves and others first, before plunging into marriage.

Such marriages of fully independent young adults, economically free, are easy to defeat gender based and domestic violence of all kind, as they will be unions of freely, equal, deciding and independent young adults.

Zambia will never be free from poverty, unemployment, inequalities and underdevelopment unless we also fight and defeat forced, early and child marriages.

(Comments to: kalindawalo2010@gmail.com)