Child marriage continues to ruin young lives in Zambia

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 11:13:16 +0000



 THE practice of child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or an informal union of anyone younger than the age of 18, is a reality that continues to affect many children globally and Zambia is no exception.

Zambia is among the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world.

Although the scourge affects both boys and girls, the latter are disproportionally victims.

According to the 2013-2014 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) 17 percent of girls aged 15-19 are married compared to only 1 percent of boys of the same age group and 42 percent of women aged 20-49 report having married before the age of 18, compared to 4.2 percent of men.

 What are the causes of child marriage in Zambia?


Many families in Zambia especially in rural areas are still living in object poverty, therefore, poverty has proved to be one of the most significant factors driving child marriage in Zambia

Child labour Ambassador Samson Mutambo explains that parents and guardians see child marriage as a potential opportunity to benefit financially from the bride price for their daughter as well as an opportunity to ease their strain on household resources.

“Economic hardship forces parents and guardians to make difficult choices as they try to manage their living situation and encourages short-term strategic thinking rather than consideration of investment in longer term gains. “For their part, girls see marriage as an opportunity to escape challenging economic and material circumstances and as a means of responding to their own basic needs,” he said.

 Lack of recreation

In Zambia, the rates of child marriage are higher in rural areas than urban, as are teenage fertility rates.

Latest data available from the 2007 DHS indicate that girls in some rural areas are more than twice as likely to marry as their counterparts living in large towns and cities.

The survey also reveals that girls in rural areas also tend to marry, on average, about two years earlier than girls of the same age living in urban areas.

Chikobo ward Councillor Reagan Mubtsa in Chitambo Constituency of Central Province disclosed that children in his ward have limited access to a range of programmes, information services and few opportunities for leisure and recreation.

“Like other children in rural areas, children in my ward do not have access to leisure and recreation facilities, they don’t have things to do and so they resort to engaging in sexual activities which eventually lands them in early marriages,” Mr Mubatsa said.

 Not going to School

The dynamics between child marriage and education are complex and flow in multiple directions; some girls marry because they cannot go to school.

For many families, the financial cost of sending children to secondary school is prohibitive. With annual secondary school tuition reported to be approximately K2, 700 and annual and annual family incomes in rural areas reported at about K900.

Secondary schooling is financially prohibitive for many families, even before taking into account the indirect costs for items like uniforms, materials and transport. With average rural household size 5.2 persons, the high ratio school fee to income makes it impossible for families to consider sending more than one or, at the most, two children to school at any one time.

“Sometimes children want to go to school and parents are ready to take them to school, but they don’t have funds or school fees, hence, children stay at home without anything to do. They have no recreation centres, hence if they can’t go to school, recreation becomes sexual activities,” A father of six and resident of Chitambo, Josias Chola said.

 Teenage pregnancies

Marriage is a common response to teenage pregnancy in many Zambian communities. It is widely accepted that if a girl becomes pregnant, then she should marry the father of the child.

A 16-year-old Mercy Banda, who was married off when she was 14 years but now divorced, said her parents forced her into marriage when they found out that she was pregnant.

“When I was 14, I was impregnated by a boy who was two years older than me and my parents said they could not support my child, so I had no option but to marry him. But we are not together anymore,” she said.

 Vulnerability of orphan’s stepchildren

Orphans and step children are more vulnerable to child marriage, especially in areas where HIV prevalence rates are high or there are greater levels of divorce and remarriage.

At community level, extended families are involved in the care of orphans and in meeting their basic needs through early and middle childhood income. Usually when orphans reach puberty, guardians tend to think that their duty of care has been met and that it was acceptable to seek out marriage for non-biological children in the household. “The main issue is orphan children- their inability to feed themselves or be fed by their guardians and the quality of care by guardians. Orphans come mainly from households with HIV where the parents have died or they have been forced out of a home due to re-marriage,” says Nkweto Mubanga, a nurse.

Similarly, stepchildren are often pressured by stepparents to become independent as a means of reducing the demands on the households’ economy or of freeing up the limited resources available to support children from the current marriage.

Stepchildren are also cited as being mistreated and such treatment renders marriage a more attractive option to children because they seek to run away from what they deem an intolerable living situation.

“She must have been mistreated at home by her cruel step mother, who may have not been giving her food to eat or might have been beating her,” Ms Mubanga added.

 Risks associated with  child marriage

Adolescent girls have continued to die from complications arising from early child bearing and they continue to drop out of the school system before completing their education, therefore, reducing their chances of escaping poverty. Girls also experience emotional difficulties when they move out of their family home, such as challenges that couples encounter in managing their relationship with one another and caring for small children when they themselves are young and lack experience.


Child marriage is an issue that has gained attention in Zambia. Nearly every week, there are media reports and press releases on the topic, and regular statements are made by chiefs, government officials, non-governmental organisations, academics and front-line workers in rural and urban areas.

The Zambian government, working in partnership with stakeholders, had embarked on the programme to end child marriage, officially launched in 2013.

The Ministry of Gender was given the responsibility of coordinating the national efforts against child marriage, while addressing the vulnerabilities as well as the consequences associated with marrying off children.

“In carrying out the intervention, my ministry is responsible for strengthening coordination at all levels, raising awareness on child marriage, facilitating the review of policy and legal frameworks related to children and marriage, building capacities of stakeholders at all levels, mobilising funds and facilitating service delivery related to addressing the vulnerabilities and consequences of child marriage,” says Gender Minister Victoria Kalima. In order to strengthen the national response to ending child marriage, the Ministry of Gender, working with stakeholders, last year developed a National Strategy on ending child marriage, a document which outlines the strategic focus for the period 2016-2021.

Ms Kalima explained that the National Strategy was aimed at accelerating National efforts to end child marriage by 2030 by providing an operational framework that reflects the current national and global trends and efforts.

“I am confident that the National Strategy on ending child marriage will promote and contribute to the protection of the rights of all children, both those affected by child marriage as well as those at risk.

“It will support their development and welfare as espoused in the Revised National Child Policy, the Revised Sixth National Development Plan, Zambia’s Vision 2030, the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Children, the African Union Charter and other relevant national international policy and legal document,” Ms Kalima said.

With all these interventions, everyone has a responsibility to ensure that all children grow up in a safe environment, have access to health care and develop themselves to their full potential.

The fight against child marriage will remain only wishful thinking if proactive measures put in place are not implemented by all to ensure that this becomes a reality.

Child marriage leads to multiple violations of children’s rights, especially for the girl child and has globally been identified as one of the detriments to development, therefore, there is an urgent need for concerted efforts of various players to ensure children fully develop before they enter into marriage.


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