CHIPATA, 13 APRIL 2013 -- Zambian law forbids marriage below the age of 21, but many girls end up being married even at 13 years. Getting reliable data on child marriages is difficult, but estimates show that almost half of Zambian women are married by the age of 18 - one of the highest prevalence rates in the world.
A UNFPA sub-analysis of the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey indicates that on average, two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday - representing about 42% of women. Once Zambian teenage girls are married, only part of them (28.1%) use contraception in spite of their needs to space their childbearing time. Of them, 55.8% have their demand for contraception satisfied.
The analysis further indicates that while child marriage is common in Zambia, girls living in poverty and in rural areas face a higher risk of being married at an early age, while girls who do not have access to education are particularly vulnerable.
To respond to this issue, the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs (MoCTA), with support from the United Nations and other Government and Cooperating Partners, has embarked on a nationwide campaign to end child marriages in Zambia.
First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba officially launched the campaign, with a call to end the scourge which is robbing young people, especially girls, of an opportunity to excel in life. The launch took place in Luangeni Village of Paramount Chief Mpezeni in Chipata District, Eastern Province.
Prior to the official launch, Dr. Kaseba, accompanied by Cooperating Partners and Government officials, visited eight homes with child brides aged between 14 and 18 in Luangeni constituency. During the home visits, she learnt that most teenage girls are married off after getting pregnant, later dropping out of school. Dr. Kaseba has since urged the affected girls to consider going back to school and acquire skills to empower themselves economically. "Government will help you [young girls] decide what support you need - but you should know that education is priority as it will help you have a bright future. " she said.
And Paramount Chief Mpezeni called on all traditional leaders to root out child marriages in their chiefdoms and encourage child brides to go back to school. "I created a school scholarship fund to help vulnerable children, especially girls, to help them stay in school and avoid early marriage" he said.
As a priority for 2013, UNFPA Zambia, under its adolescent and youth cluster, has in the last three months scaled up interventions to reach marginalized adolescents girls - including girls affected and at risk of child marriage. This follows the UNFPA Executive Directors commitment for UNFPA to invest up to an additional $20 million to reach the most marginalized adolescent girls in 12 countries including Zambia.
In February 2013, UNFPA Zambia was identified as the lead UN Agency to support national programmes to end child marriage - including facilitating support from other donors and cooperating partners.
UNFPA Zambia is proud to have directly contributed to the launch of the campaign to end child marriage on 13th April 2013 - focusing on the development of advocacy messages and materials. With support from the UK Department for International Development and the Embassy of Sweden, UNFPA will in 2013 work with the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs to invest in programmes that will:
- enforce national legislation against child marriage
- support information sharing with communities to transform negative traditional norms that influence child marriages
- create safe spaces for girls affected and at risk of child marriage
- build up girls' education and health assets