Photo credit: Girls Not Brides
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 31% of women aged 20-24 years married by the age of 18.
The rates of child marriage vary from one region to another, and are as high as 60% in the country’s Eastern Region, and as low as 28% in the capital of Lusaka.
There has been little to no change in the national prevalence rate since 2002, according to the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey and the 2010 Census.
Child marriage in Zambia may be more prevalent than we think. The birth registration rate of 14% makes it difficult the exact age of millions of girls.
Child marriage in Zambia is driven by traditional practices and beliefs, and the low social status assigned to women and girls. Initiation ceremonies for girls who reach puberty prepare them for marriage and gender responsibilities as defined by culture.
Cultural practices such as polygamy also drive child marriage in Zambia, as young girls are married off to older men who are respected in their communities.
Poverty also exacerbates child marriage. Over 60.5% of the population live below the poverty line, and families see child marriage as an opportunity to benefit financially from the bride price they receive for their daughter.
Finally, girls’ lack of access to education contributes to the likelihood of child marriage. UNFPA found that 65% of women aged 20-24 with no education were married or in union by the age of 18, compared to only 17% of women with secondary education or more.
Legal age of marriage
Zambia has established 21 as the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls, however they can marry at 16 with parental consent.
The law is further hindered by inconsistencies with other laws and policies on children, and by the existence of a customary legal system that allows girls to be married as soon as they have reached puberty.
National strategy to end child marriage
In March 2016, the Government of Zambia adopted a five-year national action plan to end child marriage. Zambian civil society, including the Zambia Ending Child Marriage NGO Network, was instrumental in initiating the development of the national strategy and providing input into the content. The Ministry of Gender is responsible for implementing the action plan.
In 2013, the Government of Zambia launched a nation-wide campaign to end child marriage. Spearheaded by the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, the campaign prioritised engagement with traditional leaders and law reform.
Regional and global advocacy
The Government of Zambia is taking steps to put child marriage at the forefront of the regional and international agenda. In November 2015, Zambia co-hosted the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage.
In September 2013, Zambia co-sponsored with Canada the first UN General Assembly resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The two countries co-sponsored another resolution on the issue at the UN General Assembly’s 69th session in 2014.
International and regional campaigns
Zambia was one of four focus countries in the process of developing a South African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on child marriage.
The “Cost of Child Marriage” study conducted by the International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank is analysing Zambia as one of four country experiences.
UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage
Zambia is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years.
Members In Zambia
- Advocacy for Child Justice (ACJ)
- Anglican Street Children’s Programme
- Charity Centre for Children and Youth Development
- Continuity Zambia Organization (C-Z-O)
- DECENTLIFE ZAMBIA
- Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
- Generation Alive
- Global Family Network
- GoYe Therefore
- Hope for Africa
- Keimu Health Fitness
- Lakeshore Hope and Relief Zambia (LHRZ)
- Law and Development Association (LADA)
- Lifeline / Childline Zambia
- Maboshe Memorial Centre
- Madzimawe Foundation
- Musokotwane Compassion Mission Zambia (MCMZ)
- Plan International
- Population Council
- Programme for Vulnerable Woman and Children (PVCW)
- Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)
- Research Advocacy & Evidence Application Network (REAPNet)
- Save the Children
- Sishemo Foundation
- VSO International
- Women and Law in Southern Africa, Research and Educational Trust (WLSA)
- Women for Change
- World Vision
- World YWCA
- Young People’s access to quality Health, Academic, Social and Economic Support in Zambia (Y-PHASES)
- Zambia Aged People’s Association (ZAPA)
- UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2016
- Child Frontiers, Qualitative Study of Child Marriage in Six Districts of Zambia, 2015
- Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), Media brief on ending child marriage in Zambia, 2014
- UNICEF, Every child;s birth right: inequities and trends in birth registration, 2013
- UNFPA, Zambia: Child marriage country profile, 2012
- World Bank, Data profile: Zambia