In Zambia the age of consent for sex is 16. However a girl may marry before this provided she has attained puberty (had her first period) and, so long as her parents or guardians have agreed to the marriage, it is her husband's right to have sex with her whatever her age. Even today, very young girls are often encouraged into marriage by the older generations, especially in rural areas.
Poor families struggling to feed themselves may find a solution by marrying off a girl shortly after she reaches puberty - it means one less mouth to feed. Some girls also marry early due to pressure from friends; others become pregnant at an early age but remain unmarried.
All children are taught to show respect to older members of the community but this puts girls in a vulnerable position if they are approached for sexual favours. Girls, especially orphans who are sent to live with their extended family, may be approached by uncles, step-fathers or cousins and it is not unknown for school pupils to be coerced into sex by teaching staff at their school, priests or others in authority. Teachers and head teachers may offer good exam marks or gifts or even threaten to give poor exam marks if the girl refuses.
Prostitution exists in many areas of Zambia and Mfuwe is no exception. Single mothers and other vulnerable women may take to 'subsistence prostitution', relying on it for an income in order to feed their families whilst others partake only when the need arises.
It is not unknown for girls from poor families to offer sex in return for school uniform or stationery and some are encouraged by their family to take an older man as a 'boyfriend' who will pay their school fees.
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