Nelson Mandela’s widow Lady Graca Machel says it will be difficult for Zambia to end child marriages because the country’s education system is leaving a lot of young girls out of school.

And Machel who is also Founder and Board Chairperson of the Graca Machel Trust (GMT) says there is need to improve techniques of the agriculture sector in Zambia if the country is to move from subsistence farming into a profitable business.

At a media briefing today, Machel who is former first lady of Mozambique and South Africa, observed that the Zambian education system left a lot of children out of school which she said had contributed to the high levels of poverty the country was facing.

“I will have to insist that for us to have physical development, the mental development, to make informed decisions and the right choices in life, children need an education. But the system of education in this country, to be more precise, leaves a lot of children especially girls outside school. Of course they can complete the primary education but the opportunities for them to do secondary education are very small, so our discussion is to say within the area of the SDGs, within the plans that we have also. Child marriages can not come down until the system of education opens up much more opportunities for these children not only to focus on secondary education but also opportunities for technical education for the personal education so that girls and boys can have skills and knowledge to use in developing themselves, their families and the communities in which they are,” Machel said.

“In order to reduce poverty in this country, we need to introduce women inclusion programmes that give an opportunity to a woman to have access to financial resources in whatever sector whether in agriculture or any other sector. This is what we are trying to do as Graça Machel Trust, but the reason why also I joined global movements like the Sustainable Development Goals advocacy is precisely because we need to connect what happens at National level. So we need efforts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania have to be connected with the rest of the world.”

Machel observed that opening up education opportunities for children was the most successful way of ending early pregnancies and marriages.

“We just shared with the Parliamentarians and we did so as well with government officials in our meeting with the ministers of cabinet last night. But you know, one way of the successful strategies to bring down child marriages is opening up more opportunities for girls to remain within the education system until they complete at least the secondary school, at least that’s the minimum. Because when a child is sent to school at the age of seven and us nurtured and supported to remain in the system until they complete their secondary education, then she is at least 18 years old and she would have at least reached the age which by constitution and law is the limit of being a child,” she said.

Machel also observed that the Zambian Parliament did consist of a lot of young people and hence called on the young parliamentarians to be vocal and mobilize themselves in order to pull youths to the positions of members of parliament.

“We need to involve young people in leadership because the present and the future of this country belongs to them and I expect young people to be vocal in Parliament and to mobilize themselves and their fellow youths to take positions as parliamentarians,” she said.

She also advised the government to improve the agriculture sector as way of promoting youth participation in the sector.

“There is huge potential of agriculture which this country has and we can not continue with our little traditional ways of agriculture so we need also to improve the techniques of agriculture so that young people can now feel attracted to use agriculture as a way of not only developing but of making business. They need to transform agriculture from subsistence to a business, make money and also produce to the country in a diversified way because we also have high levels of malnutrition,” Machel said.

Graca also called on the media to take a leading role in educating the masses about Child Marriages and other important national matters.

“I think journalists should also begin to talk about what kind of diversification the country needs to focus on to bring down malnutrition, to develop the agriculture sector, to bring down stunting. Please do not only ask questions as journalists, use the power you have to talk to every single citizen through the messages you take out there in writing, Radio and Television that’s the role also of the media,” said Graca.