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PRESS RELEASE: Desmond Tutu: “We can end child marriage in Zambia if all work together”

Archbishop Tutu and Mabel van Oranje visit AGEP, a girls' empowerment programme in Zambia, run by Population Council and YWCA Zambia.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu commends innovative work by government, civil society and traditional leaders in efforts to end child marriage

Download photos from Archbishop Tutu and Mabel van Oranje’s visit:

18 September 2014

Lusaka, Zambia

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Zambia for its work to end the harmful practice of child marriage, which is prevalent in the country. Zambia has the 16th highest rate of child marriage in the world: 42% of girls are married by the age of 18.

During his visit to Zambia, Archbishop Tutu was joined by HRH Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. They met First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, a wide group of government ministers, traditional chiefs, religious leaders, youth activists, diplomats and international donors, UN agencies and civil society organisations working at the grassroots to end child marriage. They also heard directly from child brides about the challenges they face in their daily life.

At the conclusion of the four-day visit, Archbishop Tutu praised all those who are working to prevent girls from marrying as children, including the government, civil society organisations and traditional leaders.

Archbishop Tutu said:

“As a grandfather, it pains me to hear the stories of girls who have married as children. The suffering of so many of God’s daughters brings me deep sorrow, but the spirit of the girls we have spoken to is indomitable.

“It is encouraging to see that the government, civil society, traditional leaders and others in Zambia have recognised that child marriage has a devastating impact on girls and the nation as a whole. I am impressed by the determination of all those we have met who are working to bring an end to this scourge. But the challenge of child marriage remains pressing.”

Child marriage is a significant contributor to illiteracy (married girls almost always drop out of school), maternal mortality (girls under 18 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or labour than women in their early 20s), gender based violence (married girls are highly vulnerable to forced sex and domestic violence), and HIV/AIDS (married girls are more likely to become infected with HIV than unmarried girls the same age).

“I urge all Zambians to build on the commitment you have shown and to do all that you can to provide girls with alternatives to marriage. We have seen how empowerment programmes can transform a girl’s life, increasing her confidence and her ability to make choices about her own future. We also need to make sure that education, health and other services are accessible and affordable especially for adolescent girls – married and unmarried,” continued Archbishop Tutu.

“I commend the Zambian government for launching a national campaign to end child marriage. It was also remarkable to meet traditional leaders who see the need to amend those traditions that hold girls and their communities back.

“I am confident that we can end child marriage in one generation but we must work together. Everyone in Zambia has a role to play in ending this harmful practice – government, traditional and religious leaders, parents, NGOs, the media, and young people, especially girls. By working in partnership, I know that you can achieve great things.

“Zambia was a great friend to South Africa during our struggle against apartheid. You are a nation that has long loved freedom. By addressing child marriage, Zambia will ensure the freedom of all its girl children and take its rightful place among the nations that are prosperous and progressive.”

Mabel van Oranje said:

“The number of child brides globally is staggering: 15 million girls a year marry as children, that is one girl every two seconds. During this trip I was reminded of the individual stories behind those numbers: the girls who drop out of school to be married, who suffer violence at the hands of their husbands, who give birth when they are still children and who have every opportunity for a prosperous future taken away.

“Here in Zambia we have also seen that change is possible. Ending child marriage requires a comprehensive approach that includes the empowerment of girls, mobilisation of families and community leaders, provision of services and the harmonisation and implementation of laws that set 18 as the minimum age of marriage. Change won’t be easy but if all work together, Zambia can become a global leader in efforts to end child marriage and empower girls.

Girls Not Brides and our members in Zambia will play our part in national efforts to end child marriage. At the same time we hope that Zambia will continue to use its influence in SADC, the African Union and at the United Nations to end child marriage worldwide.”

During their stay in Zambia, Archbishop Tutu and Mabel van Oranje visited the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Programme run by Population Council and YWCA Zambia. The programme seeks to build girls’ social, health and economic assets and to gain essential skills to address the challenges faced during adolescence, including child marriage. (Photos from the visit are available here.)


An estimated 15 million girls around the world are married every year before they turn 18, often with no choice about when or whom they marry.

While boys can also marry early, girls are disproportionately affected. For example, 18% of adolescent girls in Zambia are currently married or living in union – compared to only 1.2% of adolescent boys.

Child marriage is practised across all religions, ethnicities and continents. The highest rates of child marriage worldwide are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.


  • Laura Dickinson, Girls Not Brides:
  • Rina Mukumba, Zambia Institute of Mass Communication


Cell: +260-979-284848


Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 400 civil society organisations from over 60 countries, united by a commitment to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Girls Not Brides

Click to download. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of the world’s best-known advocates for peace and human rights. He is Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is Nobel Peace Laureate (1984).

Archbishop Tutu is a founding member of The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to promote peace and human rights. The Elders founded Girls Not Brides and played a critical role in bringing child marriage to the forefront of the international agenda.

Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides 

Click to download. Photo credit: Jeroen van der Meyde.

Click to download.
Photo credit: Jeroen van der Meyde.

HRH Princess Mabel van Oranje is the Chair of the Board for Girls Not Brides. From 2008 to 2012, Mabel was the first Chief Executive Officer of The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to promote peace and human rights. Mabel led the consultations that shaped The Elders’ strategic decision to raise awareness about the often forgotten issue of child marriage and to create Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

With over twenty years of experience in building partnerships for justice and change, Mabel’s vision has seen Girls Not Brides grow into a global partnership of over 400 civil society organisations that are based in over 60 countries, united by a commitment to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfill their potential.