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)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
3% of boys in Zambia are married before the age of 18.
Rates of child marriage vary from one region to another and are highest in the Eastern and Northern provinces, where the median age of first marriage among 20-49 year old women was 17.5 years.
According to Zambia’s Demographic and Health Surveys, child marriage rates have declined from 42% in 2002 to 31% in 2014.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Zambia could result in USD68.2 million gains in productivity for the country.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Zambia, child marriage is also driven by:
- Poverty: With 60% of the Zambian population living in poverty, child marriage is sometimes used as a way of reducing the perceived financial burden a girl places on her family and to receive money through the payment of lobola (bride price). Some girls see marriage as a way of escaping challenging economic circumstances and responding to their own basic needs.
- Adolescent pregnancy: 29% of girls aged 15-19 have been pregnant in Zambia, and child marriage is sometimes seen as a coping mechanism to deal with attached social stigma. Whilst in some communities, such as Katete and Mufulira, families are starting to encourage damage payments from the father, marriage is still the “cheaper option.
- Orphanhood: When orphans reach puberty, some families think their duty of care has been met and marry them off. Orphans and step-children are reportedly widely mistreated, and marriage is sometimes seen as an escape from intolerable living situations.
- Gender norms: Marriage is sometimes used to control what is perceived to be inappropriate behaviour among girls, such as having multiple sexual partners and staying out late and frequenting bars. It is also used to protect girls from HIV and pregnancy.
Harmful traditional practices: Practices such as polygamy also drive child marriage in Zambia, as girls are married off to older men as second or third wives.
What has this country committed to?
Zambia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Zambia has been one of the earliest countries that have championed efforts to tackle child marriage internationally. Zambia co-sponsored the following Human Rights Council resolutions on child marriage: the 2019 resolution on the consequences of child marriage, the 2017 resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, the 2015 resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights, and the 2013 resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Zambia also signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Zambia co-sponsored the 2013,2014 and 2016 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage. Zambia also co-led with Canada the 2018 UN General Assembly resolution on child, early and forced marriage. At UNGA 2018, the two countries organised a high-level side event on “Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate Child Marriage in Africa by 2030” where the Head of State of Zambia called for effective and concrete actions to accelerate efforts to end child marriage in Africa.
Zambia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2016 the UN Child Rights Committee raised concerns about the extent of child marriage in Zambia. It recommended that the government disseminate the Marriage Act widely at the local level and raise awareness on the harmful consequences of child marriage among parents, teachers and community leaders.
During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Zambia supported recommendations to take all necessary measures to accelerate implementation of the Marriage Bill (2015) and to end child marriage.
Zambia has also been a leader of efforts to end child marriage at the African Union level. In November 2015, the country co-hosted the first ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage and in 2016 it hosted a review meeting of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
In 1992 Zambia signed, but has not yet ratified, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2006 Zambia ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
Zambia is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Zambia committed to end harmful practices against women and girls, including ending child marriage by 2030 by introducing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) model law on ending child marriage, and accelerating the implementation of the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and other policy and legislative frameworks.
At the Girl Summit in London in 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
Zambia is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Zambia is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
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. In 2018, the Global Programme supported more than 3500 girls with life skills education intended to keep girls in school, and more than 31,000 people participated in community dialogues promoting gender equitable norms including delaying child marriage.
In March 2016, the government adopted a National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage in Zambia (2016-2021) with the aim of reducing child marriage by 40% by 2021. The Ministry of Gender is responsible for launching and implementing the accompanying costed National Action Plan (NAP). The National Strategy has five objectives:
- Strengthen multi-sectoral responses to reduce children’s vulnerability to marriage.
- Develop and review policies and legislation to ensure consistent interpretation of child related interventions;
- Facilitate positive change in prevailing negative attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and practices to reduce the incidence of child marriage;
- Facilitate the provision of child-sensitive services.
- Mobilise financial resources to enable the implementation of programmes.
An Advocacy and Communication Strategy (2018 – 2021) has also been developed to support objective 3 –to improve knowledge and facilitate positive change of parents, children and communities, and strengthen the capacity of local stakeholders to act as change agents.
At district level, two Action Plans to End Child Marriage (with costed multi-sectoral operational frameworks) were launched in Senanga and Katete in 2018 by UNICEF to serve as pilots for the implementation of the NAP.
The launch of the NAP was reinforced with the launch of the Adolescent Health Strategy 2017–2021 by the Ministry of Health. The strategy gives policy guidelines on how the government and partners should work together towards securing the health status of adolescents.
Zambia’s seventh National Development Plan (2017-2021) includes child marriage related interventions and has helped to institutionalise efforts to address child marriage across ministries and budgets.
In 2019, the President of Zambia hosted a high-level event within the framework of African Union Campaign to end Child Marriage where the “Traditional and Cultural Leaders movement to end child marriage and FGM/C in Africa” was launched, recognising the key role of traditional leaders as catalysts in the efforts to end child marriage.
In 2018, the National Assembly of Zambia organised, in collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Parliamentary Seminar “Parliamentarians Take Action to End Child, Early, and Forced Marriage”. Participants included both women and men MPs and other stakeholders, who agreed that child marriage is a human rights violation prevalent in Zambia and discussed effective parliamentary responses to this practice.
In 2014 the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs (MOCTA), in collaboration with the Graca Machel Trust, held a National Symposium on Child Marriage.
Previously, in 2013 the government launched a nationwide campaign to end child marriage. Spearheaded by the MOCTA, the campaign prioritised engagement with traditional leaders and law reform. The UN and World Vision were active in supporting this.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Marriage Act 1964 the minimum legal age of marriage is 21 years.
However, under Articles 17 & 33, a person aged 16-21 may marry with parental consent. A person aged under 16 can be married with judicial consent assuming the particular circumstances of the case are not contrary to public interest.
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* 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)
Members In Zambia
- Advocacy for Child Justice (ACJ)
- Anglican Street Children’s Programme
- Charity Centre for Children and Youth Development
- Children in Need Network (CHIN)
- Community Health Education Sport Initiative Zambia (CHESIZ)
- Continuity Zambia Organization (C-Z-O)
- DECENTLIFE ZAMBIA
- Families Are Nations (FAN)
- Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
- Fountain of Good Sport Community Foundation (FOGS Community)
- Generation Alive
- Global Family Network
- God’s Children Blessings Foundation
- GoYe Therefore
- Hope for Africa
- Keimu Health Fitness
- Lakeshore Hope and Relief Zambia (LHRZ)
- Law and Development Association (LADA)
- Lifeline / Childline Zambia
- Lubuto Library Partners (LLP)
- Maboshe Memorial Centre
- Madzimawe Foundation
- Men in Health (MIH)
- Musokotwane Compassion Mission Zambia (MCMZ)
- Ndola Nutrition Organisation (NNO)
- 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
- Shining Future Zambia (SFZ)
- Sishemo Foundation
- VSO International
- Women and Law in Southern Africa, Research and Educational Trust (WLSA)
- Women for Change
- World Vision
- World YWCA
- Young Africa (YA)
- Young People’s access to quality Health, Academic, Social and Economic Support in Zambia (Y-PHASES)
- Zam City Academy (ZCA)
- Zambia Aged People’s Association (ZAPA)