The high number of child marriages in Zambia is a national crisis, the First Lady of Zambia, Dr Christine Kaseba, told participants at a symposium on ending child marriage held in Lusaka this month.
42% of girls in Zambia are married before their 18th birthday, placing the country among the 20 countries with the highest prevalence rates of child marriage in the world.
The Symposium is one of the Zambian Government’s latest efforts to address child marriage in the country following the launch in 2013 of a nation-wide campaign to end child marriage. The campaign, spearheaded by the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, saw traditional leaders across the country champion the rights of girls, teaching communities about the harmful impact of child marriage and often intervening themselves in impending child marriages.
Increasing collaboration on child marriage in Zambia
Taking the campaign to the next level, the symposium on child marriage brought together a wide range of partners – including Ministers, traditional leaders, civil society, youth activists, journalists and UN agencies – to share information about child marriage in Zambia, learn from one another, and explore ways to build partnerships to end child marriage in the country.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for International Development, praised Zambia for its regional and international leadership on child marriage, and welcomed its decision to work collaboratively with a host of ministries on the issue.
Speaking on behalf of Girls Not Brides, Françoise Moudouthe, Africa Regional Officer, emphasised the value of inclusive and multi-sectoral approaches to child marriage, adding that Zambia was in a position to become a champion in regional fora, such as the Southern African Development Community and the African Union.
A number of ambitious commitments came out of the symposium. The Ministry of Justice pledged to harmonise customary and statutory laws to avoid loopholes and inconsistencies; civil society organisations announced their intention to form a network against child marriage, while media recognised the need to move beyond mere commentators on child marriage to become agents of change.
Addressing child marriage at the regional and international level
The Government of Zambia is also taking steps to put child marriage at the forefront of the regional and international agenda.
In December 2013, the Ministers of Education and Health of Zambia recognised child marriage as a major challenge to young people in Eastern and Southern Africa, and joined 20 Ministers from the region in committing to end child marriage by 2020.
Zambia also co-sponsored, along with Canada, the first UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on child, early and forced marriage in 2013, which mandated the very first UNGA panel discussion on child marriage and its implications for the post-2015 development. At the panel, Canada announced it would once again lead with Zambia on introducing a resolution on child marriage at the 69th session of the General Assembly in September 2014.
Girl Summit 2014: Commitments from Zambia
On 22 July, the British Government and UNICEF held the Girl Summit to mobilise commitments for ending child, early and forced marriage within a generation. No less than eight Ministers from Zambia committed to addressing child marriage. Here are their commitments:
- Minister of Health: I commit myself to ensuring that you, our children, access the healthcare you need to grow up as healthy citizens of our country. It is not right that our society should be incurring the unnecessary cost of treating girl children who become patients as a result of child marriages. I want to spend our budget on keeping our young people healthy.
- Minister of Youth and Sport: I pledge to use the powers vested in my office to increase opportunities where you, our children, can discover and enjoy your God-given talents through recreation and sport.
- Minister of Justice: I commit to ensuring that the customary and statutory laws are so reconciled that you, our children, do not have to suffer the shame, pain and suffering that come with our current dual legal system. Law is supposed to protect you and not leave you at the mercy of adults’ selfishness and immoral appetites.
- Minister of Home Affairs: I pledge that I will invest my energies into making our Police Service a protector and promoter of children’s right, among which is your right to enjoy your childhood unhindered by evil practices veiled as “traditions”.
- Minister of Gender and Child Development: I promise to increase my promotion of policies and practices that lead to sustainable development in order to remove the excuses for child marriage that are based on household poverty.
- Minister of Local Government and Housing: I commit myself to making local administration sensitive and responsive to the needs of you, our children. Homes must be a haven rather than a place of terror and anguish for you.
- Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs: I dedicate myself to leaving no stone unturned in the effort to end child marriages. On your behalf, I will seek and enlist the help all institutions and individuals that shall remain restless until you, our children, are totally and permanently free from the scourge of child marriages.
- Minister of Education, Science and Vocational Training and Early Education: I dedicate myself to mobilizing the necessary resources that will allow each one of you, our children, to attend high quality education until you are over the age of 18. You are our future and good education is the wing on which you will fly.
- Traditional Leaders: I commit myself to fighting – up to my last ounce of energy – all those forces that hide their evil and immoral intentions and practices under the banner of “traditions and culture” so that you, our children, can flourish in your God-given right to be children and enjoy this special stage of your life.
In the time it has taken to read this article 58 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds