On 8 April, the Government of Zambia adopted a national strategy to end child marriage, joining a growing list of countries thinking long-term about how to address a practice that disempowers millions of girls and women each year.
Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. 42% of girls in Zambia are said to be married before the age of 18, a rate that has not evolved since 2002. The strategy sets an intermediate goal of reducing child marriage rates by 40% by 2021 with a view to build “a Zambia free from child marriage by 2030”.
The five-year strategy aims to:
It follows the 2013 launch of a nation-wide campaign to end child marriage which focused on engaging traditional leaders and reforming laws. Peter Mucheleka, Coordinator for the Campaign to End Child Marriage at the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, explains: “In 2013, we realised that there were a lot of interventions to tackle child marriage in Zambia. The problem is that they were isolated. We had to act as one.
- Strengthen multi-sectoral responses in order to reduce children’s vulnerability to marriage;
- Facilitate the development and review of policies and legislation in order to ensure consistent interpretation and application of child-related interventions;
- Facilitate positive change in prevailing negative attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and practices in order to reduce the incidence of child marriage;
- Facilitate the provision of child-sensitive services in order to reduce children’s vulnerability to child marriage;
- Effectively mobilise financial resources in order to enable implementation of programmes aimed at reducing children’s vulnerability to marriage.
There were a lot of interventions to tackle child marriage in Zambia. The problem is that they were isolated. We had to act as one.
“We worked in partnership with a wide range of actors to develop a comprehensive national strategy to end child marriage and we will continue working together to make it a success.”
The national strategy was developed across ministries, in partnership with UNICEF and UNFPA, and the Zambian NGO Coalition on Ending Child Marriage, as well as the government of Canada, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The national strategy is an opportunity to harmonise these policies to the benefit of the child.
According to Peter Mucheleka, “Zambia has a complex legislation as far as children’s rights are concerned. We have policies on the age of marriage, gender equality, child development, etc. The national strategy is an opportunity to harmonise these policies to the benefit of the child.”
A Coordinating Unit under the Ministry of Gender will be responsible for ensuring the successful collaboration and coordination of all partners in the next five years.
While a number of challenges remain – including sustained political will, allocation of financial and human resources and the development of a National Plan of Action – Zambia’s national strategy is an important and much-needed step forward. More countries should follow their lead.
- Read: National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage in Zambia 2016-2021
- Download: A check-list for national strategies to end child marriage, by Girls Not Brides
In the time it has taken to read this article 16 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 3 seconds