VICE-PRESIDENT Mutale Nalumango says an estimated 29 percent of women are married by the age of 18 while teen pregnancy rates are estimated to be at the same percentage in Zambia.
Speaking during the high-level event in celebration of the 5th anniversary of the UNFPA-UNICEF global programme to accelerate action to end child marriage in Eastern and Southern Africa, Monday, Vice-President Nalumango said current data showed that of the 20 countries with the highest levels of child marriage in the world, 15 were African countries.
“It is worth noting that child marriage is a gross violation of international law, contravening the rights of children, especially girls, enshrined under the convention on the rights of the child, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and the African charter on the rights and welfare of the child. Addressing child marriage is critical for achieving the sustainable development goals, as well as the African union’s agenda 2063. Sadly, current data shows that of the 20 countries with the highest levels of child marriage in the world, 15 are here in Africa,” Vice-President Nalumango said.
“Our continent has countries with child marriage rates as high as 75 percent. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100 million girls were expected to marry before their eighteenth birthday in the next decade. Now, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides. This is very much an issue in our region. Here in Zambia, an estimated 29 percent of women are married by the age of 18, while teen pregnancy rates are also estimated at 29 percent.”
Vice-President Nalumango said high poverty levels and lack of opportunities influenced the gender dimensions of child marriage.
“Let me state that there is no one single cause of child marriage in our countries, though high poverty levels and lack of opportunities are important factors influencing the gender dimensions of child marriage, which are also very important. This includes gender norms and power relations which are key drivers that require urgent attention. Further, in many cultures, a girl is considered fully mature when she enters puberty – yet such attitudes and beliefs can often deprive her of her childhood and her right to education,” she said.
“One thing we see in many countries in Sub-saharan Africa, including in Zambia, is a clear inverse correlation between child marriage and girls’ education. Those girls completing secondary school have a much smaller risk of being married by the age of 18. There is also substantial research which demonstrates that access to information regarding sexual and reproductive health reduces teen pregnancies and ultimately, child marriage.”
Vice-President Nalumango said Zambia had invested efforts in making health services on reproductive health accessible to the youths and adolescents.
She said government would continue to prioritise the ending of child marriage.
“Zambia, like many other countries in our region, has mainstreamed comprehensive sexuality education in schools and has invested significant efforts in making health services on reproductive health accessible to the youths and adolescents. If Africa is to fulfil the ambitious vision outlined in agenda 2063, cross-sectoral action is required. This will include tackling poverty, the lack of opportunities for girls, barriers to accessing education, and addressing negative social and cultural practices and gender inequality. By emphasising girls’ rights in the African union agenda 2063, member states should continue to build on the strong evidence that investing in girls potentially yields huge returns, returns for positive socio-economic development of our nations,” Vice-President Nalumango said.
“Here in Zambia, we are a new government, but we will continue to prioritise the ending of child marriage. Working with national and international partners, we will continue to ensure the protection of young peoples’ rights, including the prevention of gender-based violence, increasing girls’ access to education, and improving young peoples’ health and wellbeing. In 2013, Zambia launched a campaign to end child marriage and we were the champion on ending child marriage at regional level.”
Vice-President Nalumango said President Hakainde Hichilema had upgraded the coordination of gender rights and gender equality to the Office of the President
“The current government commits to continuing these efforts as well as accelerating action to increase access to secondary education especially for the girl children, as well as addressing gender-based violence and gender inequality. Already, our President, His Excellency Mr Hakainde Hichilema, has upgraded the coordination of gender rights and gender equality to the office of the president from previously being handled in a ministry. This attests to the commitment that our government has already shown to address gender disparities, strengthen gender equality, and address the harmful social norms and practices that perpetuate child marriage,” she said.
Meanwhile, Vice-President Nalumango said government would not give up on girls in marriages.
“In the same manner, we must not forget girls who are already in marriages. Our government will not give up on them and we will continue to work to provide access to education, economic opportunities and health services, including HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health. This will help enrich their lives and provide better prospects for a bright future. The global programme is a key initiative that supports us in our efforts, and we are grateful for all that has been achieved in the past five years, both nationally and in the two focus districts of Katete, in Eastern Province and Senanga, in western province of our country. The tripartite partnership between our government and UNFPA and UNICEF has been key in this respect,” stated Vice-President Nalumango.