Stemming child marriages in Zambia, one village at a time
Agnes Lungu, 56, still regrets the day she and her husband married off their 15 year-old daughter to a man they chose, for a bride price to help solve the family's problems.
“I did not know about the harmful consequences of child marriage, and I feel very guilty I did this. It’s a wrong practice and nobody should do it,” she says.
In Kakwiya, Agnes’ village in Zambia’s Eastern Province, the practice of child marriage is as high as 60 percent, the highest in the country. Child marriage is illegal in Zambia, but the laws are often ignored by communities where marrying children and adolescent girls is a traditional practice.
- Around 1,200 community members were trained on community engagement, gender and human rights issues, and received 100 bicycles and 80 mobile phones in each of the three village-leg One-Stop Shop centres.
- Gender-based violence One Stop Shops were established in four rural villages in Zambia’s Easter and Central Provinces and will be replicated nation-wide by 2016.
- The program has prevent 20 child marriages and reported GBV cases have dropped substantially from 50 to 10-20 cases per month.
- The One Stop Shops are part of a four-year USD$15 million multi-sectoral project of the Government of Zambia-UN Joint Programme on GBV.
United Nations data shows that Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 42 percent of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18. The practice robs girls of both education and childhood, denying them rights to health services and opportunities, and leaves them vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Girls living in rural areas are at a higher risk of being married off at an early age, and those with no access to education are the most vulnerable.
To help address the issue, a UNDP-led initiative is working with communities, through One-Stop Shops on Gender Based Violence (GBV), to raise the awareness of girls, parents, teachers, community leaders, the police and policymakers about the health and rights implications of child marriage. The initiative is a result of a partnership between the UN Joint Team on Gender Based Violence and the Government of Zambia, with financial support from the governments of Sweden and Ireland. The four-year USD$15 million project takes a multi-sector approach to raise awareness, engage villagers (including men) in gender issues, and address the multi-level issues of GBV.
Rolled out in 2014, the village-led One-Stop Shops provide women reporting GBV with increased access to timely and appropriate health and counseling services; an efficient justice delivery system; protection and support services.
Local communities, with UNDP support, have trained 1,200 men and women on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those trained then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups - each with up to 40 members.
Agnes is the leader of her rural female group, Women for Change, and was trained as a paralegal. Through guidance and knowledge acquired from workshops, she dissolved her daughter’s marriage and brought her back to school.
Provided with bicycles, mobile phones and paralegal training, Agnes and her colleagues have set up neighborhood watch committees, paralegal and counselling services, and a referral system for GBV cases. They are now the driving force behind a campaign to prevent child marriage, which has been a long-standing tradition in their community.
Fanny Lungu, a paralegal, says that she already sees a significant reduction in child marriages since the establishment of the Misolo Community One-Stop Shop. “We talk to families about different ways their girls can contribute to their livelihoods, so that marriage is not seen as the only option,” she says.
The community advocates also create forums for men and women to discuss other issues that contribute to GBV, such as alcoholism, gambling, domestic violence and polygamy, and help men in the community work towards non-violent and more equal relationships with women and girls.
The men in these groups work as “community police.” They talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to deal with them, in part by engaging with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV. In some cases, they apprehend perpetrators and turn them over to the police.
Traditional leaders inside Zambia are now making it a point to ensure that child marriage, along with other issues surrounding the subject, are being brought out into public discussions during village gatherings.
So far, the initiative has prevented 20 child marriages and stopped dowry practices in a number of communities. According to Amon Mashewa, Secretary of the Misolo Community GBV One-Stop Shop, reported GBV cases have dropped substantially from 50 to 10-20 cases per month.
For Agnes, the programme has had an immediate impact. “I am glad my daughter is back in school. I want her to complete school and have a better life,” says a beaming Agnes.