Villagers in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chitera in Chiradzulu have come up with 11 by-laws to protect girls from abuse and exploitation.
The by-laws came into effect on August 16 2012 after a signing ceremony involving government officials, chief Chitera and a local non-governmental organisations in the area called Girls Empowerment Network (Genet).
The by-laws are part of a one-year campaign to end early marriages and harmful practices in Chiradzulu district by Genet.
Chiradzulu district commissionerâ€™s representative Mercy Moyo told families that after the signing ceremony, the by-laws were effective and penalties would be meted out to offenders.
â€œThe by-laws are now working. We shall punish those that will violate them. Girls should be loved and respected. I urge you girls not to rush into marriage. Marriage does not solve all your problems,â€ said Moyo.
Among the by-laws, the villagers agreed that a girl can be married at 20 and after finishing secondary education. Any parent or person who forces a girl into marriage contrary to the by-law will be required to pay a fine of one goat to the T/A, five chickens to the group village head and three chickens to the village head.
The by-laws also state that a traditional leader who encourages early marriage will be fined three goats and a church leader who blesses such a marriage three goats and will be disciplined by his congregation.
A girl who, on her own, rushes into early marriage will be punished by doing community work under the supervision of the T/A. The villagers also agreed to punish initiation counsellors who encourage girls to sleep with men as part of the initiation ceremony.
Genet communications director Joyce Mkandawire said the community came up with the by-laws after noting that girls were forced into marriage as early as at 12 years and that after initiation ceremony, they were forced to sleep with men to â€˜cleanseâ€™ themselves [kusasa fumbi].
â€œMany girls were becoming pregnant unexpectedly and had problems during delivery and were also exposed to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and Aids. The by-laws will stop that,â€ said Mkandawire adding that the by-laws are applicable to eight villages.
Chief Chitera warned families and fellow chiefs under her that the by-laws would not be applied selectively. Chitera said she was not happy that her area was registering many girls getting into early marriages and dropping out of school.
â€œThese by-laws will bring sanity to this area. You made the by-laws yourselves and they will punish you in return,â€ she warned.