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Accelerating efforts to end child marriage: the critical role of traditional leaders

Katete District, Eastern Province - Katete District in Zambia’s Eastern Province is one of the adversely impacted districts with cases of child marriage. The practice has significantly impacted on young girls physically and emotionally, depriving them of their fundamental rights to health, education and the fulfillment of their aspirations. In most cases, child marriage victims face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence.

However, there is hope in the horizon to end child marriage in light of the demonstrated leadership commitment by traditional leaders in the area. Chieftainess Kawaza of the Chewa people is one such case of inspiration in how traditional leaders can play a significant role in accelerating progress to end child marriage.

Chieftainess Kawaza recognizes that protecting and fulfilling the rights of women and girls in her Chiefdom is central to actualizing inclusive and sustainable development. Notably, she has demonstrated this commitment by developing a robust development strategy for her chiefdom, which places significant priority on eliminating non-progressive social and cultural practices and pushes for a strong agenda to end child marriages.

With support from the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, she has established taskforce committees that are mandated to implement interventions to eliminate social and cultural drivers of child marriage in collaboration with other partners within her Chiefdom. Equally, she continues to play a significant role to encourage young girls that fall pregnant in her chiefdom to go back to school.

Additionally, noting that one of the barriers to keeping girls constantly in school are the initiation ceremonies that girls under go when they reach puberty, the Chieftainess has issued directives for all ceremonies to take place only during school holidays. In additional, she has instructed the traditional counsellors who conduct the ceremonies to work with a revised curriculum that focuses only on progressive topics and cultural practices that promotes the rights and interests of the adolescent girls.

“Our aim is to promote and protect the rights the girl child without leaving the boy child behind. We do this by discouraging early marriages and cattle herding by boys through the liaison committees who play a watchdog role in various areas of the Chiefdom.” She said.

Kawaza chiefdom is one of the largest in Eastern Province covering Katete and Sinda Districts, with over 650 villages and an estimated population of 100,000 of which 75% are young people.

Actualizing the unfinished business of the ICPD

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA) reaffirms that the path to sustainable development is through the equitable achievement of dignity and human rights, good health, security of place and mobility and achievements secured through good governance and accountability. Evidently, the Chieftainess’ commitment and progressive actions are a remarkable case of good governance towards actualising the unfinished business of the ICPD agenda.

Ensuring Rights and Choices for Girls and Boys

Chieftainess Kawaza remains resolved to accelerate progress in her chiefdom through sustainable solutions that promote and protect the rights and choices of girls and boys and eliminate child marriage practices.

“I really thank UNFPA and UNICEF, as well as other partners working in collaboration with my Chiefdom to reach out to everyone, youths, women, men and traditional leaders in ending child marriages.” Chieftainess Kawaza