Saturday, March 2, 2024

Illegal to marry below 18 – Zambia passes the landmark  Marriage (Amendment) Act, 2023

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In a momentous stride towards safeguarding children’s rights, Zambia’s parliament passed the Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2023 on December 22,2023.

This landmark legislation unequivocally sets the marriageable age at 18, without
exception, for all marriages, including customary marriages, representing a significant shift in the nation’s commitment to eradicating child marriage.

Research shows that robust laws prohibiting the practice have a positive influence on lowering rates of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, and children’s general welfare improves.

According to Sally Ncube, the Regional Representative for Southern Africa  at Equality Now,“The legislation directly responds to the nation’s urgent challenges, with Zambia witnessing a staggering 1.7 million child brides, 400,000 of whom were married before age 15.” This alarming statistic underscores a grim reality — whereby every day in the country, over 1,000 girls under the age of 15 face the harmful consequences of child marriage, as reported by UNFPA-UNICEF.

Zambia’s legal framework on child marriage presents a complex mix of customary and statutory laws that created ambiguity in interpreting where the country stands. For instance, prior to the 2023 amendment, the Marriage Act of 1964 allowed for parental and judicial consent for marriages between the ages of 16 and 21, and customary marriages had no age restrictions,thereby allowing children of all ages to marry under traditional law.

Following Zambia’s cabinet approval of the Marriage Bill 2023 in July 2023, the Network on Ending Child Marriage in Zambia (NECMZ), a coalition of 35 civil society organizations working to end child marriage in Zambia through advocacy and engagement, welcomed the move and pushed for further legal reforms. 

“We need to ensure that child marriage was made illegal in its entirety,” said Womba Wanki, the Executive Director of Generation Alive (GAL), who is also the chairperson of the NECMZ Network. The coalition has been calling for the government to address inconsistencies in the law around the age of marriage. 

“In our submissions to parliament, we cited other laws such as the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act, No. 1 of 2011, the Education Act of 2011, and the Penal Code Act that also represented similar inconsistencies,” said Wanki. “The Children’s Code Act of 2022 prohibits marriage and harmful practices under the age of 18 for both boys and girls, yet the contradictions in the Marriage Act 1964 made it impossible to protect and fight for the rights of children fully,” she explained.

Child Marriage Puts Girls At Greater Risk Of Harm

Child marriage is a formal or informal union where one or both parties are under 18 years old.Girls are especially vulnerable to child marriage due to patriarchal norms, gender discrimination,cultural and religious beliefs, and limited or curtailed access to education. When families experience financial hardship, some parents view early marriage as a coping strategy to elevate monetary difficulties and shield daughters from sexual violence. Children who are in child marriages are more likely to drop out of school compared to their unmarried counterparts, keeping many across Eastern and Southern Africa trapped in a cycle of poverty. 

Child marriages also increase the likelihood of early pregnancies, posing significant health challenges to both young mothers and their babies. It can result in complications during pregnancy and childbirth and is associated with higher maternal and infant complications and mortality. Furthermore, children who are married off are also vulnerable to STIs, including HIV,and child brides are exposed to greater risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and violence.

What the newly enacted Marriage (Amendment) Act, 2023 means

The groundbreaking Marriage (Amendment) Act of 2023 now defines the child as a “person who has attained, or is below, the age of eighteen years,” as assigned in Zambia’s Constitution. It also states that a marriage between persons, either of whom is a child, is void. 

“Clear, consistent laws have the impact of not just acting as a deterrent but also of demonstrating to the community the need to allow children to grow and positively influence societal attitudes,” said Ncube.

Zambia is a signatory to International human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC),and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) that all categorically state the minimum age of marriage as 18,without any exceptions. 

“The removal of exceptions for customary marriages is a significant leap forward in achieving a society free from the harms of early marriages. As the nation celebrates this milestone, we anticipate positive changes that will resonate through generations,” says Wanki.

How will Zambia eradicate child marriage?

By passing this law, Zambia joins six other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mauritius,Mozambique, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe, that have laws that fully provide for the minimum age of 18 for both boys and girls with no exceptions. This is in line with the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and protecting children already in Marriage that was adopted in June 2016 by the SADC Parliament.
However, more than legislation is required. “As we celebrate with Zambia on this progressive legal reform milestone, We call on the Government of Zambia to close the divide between legal approaches and those aimed at influencing social and community norms,” emphasizes Ncube.

“Government agencies and CSO partners have to educate the public about why child marriageis harmful, and this requires a multi-sectoral approach with ample budgetary allocation. It is alsovital that the government and stakeholders accelerate mass public awareness of the law and review and strengthen relevant institutions and duty-bearers for efficient and effective implementation. 

“In addition, there is a need to ensure accountability mechanisms for the implementation of the law to ensure enforcement, survivor-centered access to justice, protection and support provision as well as timeous prosecution of perpetrators,” remarked Ncube. 

In the collective effort to combat child marriage in Eastern and Southern Africa, four insightful policy briefs have emerged as collaborative endeavors of Equality Now, UNFPA, and the SADCParliamentary Forum, shedding light on crucial aspects of this pervasive issue. The first brief meticulously delineates the Gaps and Opportunities in Legislative Frameworks about child marriage, emphasizing the need for comprehensive legal reforms. Simultaneously, it.

The second brief addresses the challenges and potential benefits of Domesticating the SADC Model Law and reviews the extent to which SADC Member States have domesticated the SADC Model Law on Child Marriage. 

This third policy brief highlights the challenges in implementation, best practices, and recommendations on how the implementation of child marriage laws and policies can be improved within the East and Southern Africa region. The brief focuses explicitly on the situation in three countries – Zambia, Uganda, and Malawi – using them as case studies to analyze the Challenges in Implementing Domestic Laws and the SADC Model Law on Child Marriage. 

The fourth brief, Ending Child Marriages in Eastern and Southern Africa: A Multi-Sectoral Approach, defines the multi-sectoral approach in the context of child marriage, highlights best practices from countries already implementing it – specifically focusing on the role of parliament and CSOs – and gives recommendations on making the approach more effective. 

24 COMMENTS

  1. The West succeeds again, in culling the population growth of an Africa country. 29 of the 50 US state allow marriage at 16 with parental consent. The other 21 allow it at 17. Basically, the want to increase their population, while they make us reduce ours. We have enough problems in Zambia, such as low literacy rates, and childhood marriage is not our priority

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    • “Research shows that robust laws prohibiting the practice have a positive influence on lowering rates of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy” Where was this research done? Do these laws halt under-age sex or just marriage?

  2. In Zambia, we’re fond of making empty Laws. The reason is that leaders don’t take time to understand the challenges that the communities face. Previously, the eligible minimum age for marriage was 16yrs and the same applies to the consent for indulgence. If you indulge one below that age it’s considered as defilement. What’ll be the impact of this legislation on society? ZERO. Zambia has records of sexual activity in girls as early as 9yrs and that makes the HIV lower bracket prevalence. The comprehensive sexual education policy seems to have worsened the situation because there’s now an upsurge in new cases among adolescents. Enactment of Laws you can’t enforce is a waste of time and resources. It’s a wrong approach

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    • My comment below is awaiting moderation
      It wont change anything. We all know that it is illegal to bribe government officials but we can see Police asking for bribes at Roadblocks. Even outside home affairs in Lusaka. It is illegal to employ friends and relatives but enter any government office and you will see extended families there.

    • Its illegal to drink alcohol in the open but visit any township especially in Lusaka and you will find people with open beer bottles in the street. It is illegal to drive while drunk but everyday I see even minibus drivers DUI.
      It is illegal to dump garbage on our streets but…etc etc etc. You can make laws but noone will enforce them. The Police who are supposed to enforce the laws only arrest people in opposition when the ruling party directs them to.

  3. On one hand you want to begin to arrest people that marry below 18yrs but on the other you have allowed children younger than that age to be taught in primary schools on how to tomba and make babies. Are these people really in their minds? Is it not because we were rightly guided that we have made responsible adults? Why have we elected to deny our children and grandchildren the same blessings?

  4. Having two different marriageable age limits was controversial. Harmonising it is even better. But defilements certainly will not end. Most men believe in eating the apple at its sweetest prime time, hence the Sweet Sixteen saying. Let’s continue policing these men to protect our apples.

    • Most men yakuti? The little girls in their teens smell like a bag of urine and some of us wouldnt want to be near them!

  5. While you are at it and since you have no topics of substance, why don’t you also discuss the maximum age for someone to marry. It will keep you busy.

    • The upper marriage age limit does not matter. Society must protect our Government Trophy. The naivety of young girls contributes to men taking advantage. If not comprehensively protected, our young men will always have second grade female partners. Protect these young girls so that your sons can enjoy a solid future Carnal Knowledge.

    • Cant you see he is joking? How can anyone be told he or she is past marrying age? In Ecuador a husban was 110 when he married a 104 year old woman just when Covid was attacking the world. Also in Britain, a 103 yearsold gentleman who married a 93 year old lady some 8 years ago

  6. It wont change anything. We all know that it is illegal to bribe government officials but we can see Police asking for bribes at Roadblocks. Even outside home affairs in Lusaka. It is illegal to employ friends and relatives but enter any government office and you will see extended families there.
    Its illegal to drink alcohol in the open but visit any township in Lusaka and you will find people with open beer bottles in the street. It is illegal to drive while drunk but everyday I see even minibus drivers DUI.
    It is illegal to dump garbage on our streets but…. ni etc etc etc chabe. You can make laws but noone will enforce them. The Police who are supposed to enforce the laws only arrest people in opposition whom the ruling party directs them to.

  7. Legal age for consent to sex: 16 years of age
    Legal age to marry : 18 years of age
    Implication : You can have sex before marriage

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