Gloria grew up with her parents and ten younger siblings in one of the poorest provinces of rural Zambia. Her parents would spend every day on the river, hoping to catch enough fish to sell so that they could afford to send their children to school and buy food for them. If they did not manage to catch enough fish, the family went hungry.

Some years later, Gloria’s father tragically passed away, and in the wake of his death the family’s suffering intensified, as it was up to Gloria’s mother to provide for herself and ten young children.  Gloria was in the room when one day a man came to visit her mother. Only 12-years-old, she didn’t understand what this meant. It wasn’t until the next day that Gloria found out that she was to be married to a man almost three times her age.

I was 12 years old when I got married to a 35-year-old man.

Her mother explained to Gloria that as she was the eldest daughter, she was the only hope of helping her siblings escape from the poverty they were in. Gloria’s mother believed that the man her daughter would marry would earn enough money for Gloria to support herself and her siblings too. Gloria knew that her mother could not afford to feed her, buy clothes for her, or pay for her school fees. She felt that if she were to refuse to marry, she would have nowhere else to go.

One week later, the man that Gloria was to marry returned to take her away. But rather than paying a significant  dowry that Gloria’s mother could use to support the family, he gifted her a single goat.

I cried because I was too young to get married. I did not want to, I did not understand the meaning of marriage, I was filled with fear. I was so scared

Unable to go to school, and locked away from a better future, many child brides face profound isolation. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)

After Gloria was married, she stopped going to school, and she was unable to continue her education past primary level. Instead, she spent her days sweeping, washing plates, and going from house to house in search of piece work.  Little changed for her financial state, as Gloria and her husband continued to struggle to earn enough to eat. But what Gloria missed most about her life before marriage, was her freedom.

When I was staying with mom I was free to do what I wanted to do. Now in the house I was taken to I was not free. I was scared because he refused for me to do anything, and only he decided what should be done.

As a child bride, Gloria endured the terror and pain of an unwanted physical relationship. Six months later, she became pregnant. Gloria was still pregnant when her husband passed away a few months later. After the funeral, his elder brother and successor to his land and property, married Gloria. In this second marriage, Gloria lived in fear. Often subjected to domestic violence, she lost her baby. Under threat and oppressed, Gloria felt unable to even seek help after suffering this miscarriage. Years passed in this way, and eventually Gloria became pregnant again. She was still pregnant when her second husband also passed away, and Gloria, still only a child herself, was left alone to give birth.

Gloria would spend her days doing chores, whilst her friends were at school. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)

In spite of everything she has been through, Gloria never stops hoping for a better future for her child. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)

When I was pregnant I felt so much pain because I was not ready to conceive at that age. I had no knowledge of how to deliver a baby. I delivered at home. I was alone when the neighbor heard me. That is when they came to help me.

CAMFED became aware of Gloria’s plight through the young women in the CAMFED Association (CAMA) – the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. Now she is 17 years old, and looking towards a better future for herself and her son. With support from CAMFED, and the encouragement of CAMFED Association members, Gloria is returning to school and hopeful that she can achieve her goal of becoming a doctor. As there are so few doctors in her district, especially women doctors, Gloria wants to be the one to change that.  She is determined to send her children to school, so she will never be forced to make the same terrible decisions as her mother.

I was supposed to be in school at the time I got married. When children are kept in school they get educated, and they will reap the benefits. I would like to go back to school and when I complete school I would like to be a doctor, the first doctor in my community.

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