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In recent years, girls’ safe spaces have emerged as a key strategy for the protection and empowerment of adolescent girls affected and at risk of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, among other development challenges affecting adolescent girls.

In Zambia, over 550 safe spaces have been established through the “UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage”. The safe spaces are aimed at equipping girls affected and at risk of child marriage with life skills that can enable them resist child marriage, including associated risks for HIV, teenage pregnancy and school drop-out, among others.

16-year-old Martha Mwiya, a grade 9 learner in rural Senanga district, is among thousands of adolescent girls who have benefitted from the safe spaces model supported through the Programme. Growing up in a remote village in Senanga, Martha is using the skills she has acquired through the safe space to transform the lives of other marginalized girls in her village.

“Participating in the safe space has taught me a lot of things that have enabled me to make better decisions. Growing up in this community, I have seen many young people drop out of school due to pregnancy or early marriages. I was beginning to see it as a normal thing. But through my interaction with my mentor, I learnt that to have a better future, I needed to focus on my education and say no to early marriage.” – Martha said.

For many girls like Martha, safe spaces provide a safe and effective environment to access information, skills and to develop a positive lifestyle through a peer supported network. Facilitated by trained community based mentors, this approach has contributed to a notable decline in adolescent pregnancy and early marriages within the communities were interventions have been implemented.

“As a result of this, many young people are now empowered to make informed choices regarding their sexual reproductive health and rights and have developed positive mindsets to say no to GBV including early marriages, adolescent pregnancies as they focus on pursuing their future. In 2021, an estimated 11,851 adolescents affected and at risk of child marriage were reached through the safe space life-skills mentorship programmes in target districts” said Ruth Kalaba, one of the safe space mentors working with the Young Women Christian Association.