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29 Minus 16: Married As a Child

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > 29 Minus 16: Married As a Child
By Christine Ennulat, Staff Writer, ChildFund International, with reporting by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Posted on 6/6/2016

This is a story about too many young girls worldwide. It’s a story that happens out of order — one that shatters a girl’s dreams, her body, her view of herself. This time, it’s about Mavis, who lives in Zambia, where the rate of child marriage is among the highest in the world: 42 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 marry before the age of 18.

woman standing against wall

Mavis is beautiful, and full of love, and she lights up when she looks at her five children. She is 29.

girl in doorway

Mavis’ oldest child, Carol, is 16. Twenty-nine minus 16 is 13.

woman carrying firewood

Mavis’ father died when she was 2. Her mother remarried soon after. Mavis’ new stepfather didn’t want her, so her mother gave her to an aunt, whose husband supported the family with odd jobs. When those dried up, Mavis had to quit school.

She was 10 and in third grade.

two women sitting

At 12, Mavis’ life got away from her, and she became pregnant. Choices were made for her, including marriage to the father, a 7th-grader who had to quit school to care for his new family.

Mavis didn’t die when she thought she would, at 13, as she labored three days to give birth to Carol at home. They couldn’t afford to go to the hospital.

boy sitting

She didn’t die at 15, when Stephen was born. But the chores became too much for her, and her young husband, frustrated and still a child himself, began beating her.

She blamed herself. She still does. “I was very childish,” she says. “I could not manage household chores like cooking for my husband, looking after my babies, washing clothes for my husband and my babies.”

child laying down reading

Around then, a ChildFund social worker visited and told them about sponsorship, livelihood training and other opportunities available to them as young parents. By the time Faris was born, when Mavis was 18, life had improved.

woman doing laundry

“I behaved like a child until I had my third one,” she says. The beatings ended.


Loveness is 5.

small boy

Henry is almost 2.

Girls playing, ball in the air

The family lives in a small compound with various cousins and in-laws. Mavis’ husband volunteers with ChildFund’s local partner organization. Both Carol and Faris are sponsored through ChildFund, and all the children participate in various programs. “ChildFund encourages children to remain in school until they finish,” says Mavis.

woman cooking a meal

As a child, Mavis had dreams. “At school, I was dreaming of becoming a teacher or doctor, because I wanted to look after my mother,” she says.


Now her dreams are for her children. “I want my children to be educated,” she insists. “I don’t want my children to experience what I went through. Because I don’t know many things — I don’t know how to read or write my name. I don’t want my children to earn a living by selling tomatoes like me.”

two women walking

“Carol is committed to school,” Mavis adds. “She does not fool around, and I teach her about the way a young lady should conduct herself.”

Carol aspires to become a teacher so she can take care of her parents.

Mavis & kids playing

Given the occasional chance, Mavis still loves to play.

Mavis & Henry

And she dreams of learning to read and write.