Campaign to End Early Marriages - Pathway to Reducing Maternal Mortality

21 May 2013

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The Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs (MoCTA), with the support of several government ministries, the United Nations and Cooperating Partners, has embarked on a nationwide campaign to end early marriages in Zambia. The First Lady, Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata officially launched the campaign with a call to end the practice which is robbing young people, especially girls of an opportunity to excel in life. The launch took place recently in Luangeni Village in Chipata District, Eastern Province.

As part of the Launch, the First Lady, accompanied by invited guests from government agencies and cooperating partners, visited eight homes with child brides aged between 14 and 18 in Luangeni constituency. During the home visits, it was observed that most teenage girls are married off after getting pregnant and dropping out of school.

The First Lady urged the affected girls to consider going back to school and acquire skills to empower themselves economically. She indicated that Government plans to assist the young brides after deciding on the type of support they required. She emphasized that education was a first priority for a bright future.

Paramount Chief Mpezeni called on all traditional leaders to root out child marriages in their chiefdoms and encourage child brides to go back to school. In his remarks, he said "I created a school scholarship fund to help vulnerable children, especially girls to help them stay in school and avoid early marriage"

Present at the launch was UNDP Country Director, Viola Morgan. She spoke to a 16 year old who was married at 14 and had safe birth at 15. “To have had the opportunity to actually witness first-hand the situation surrounding these young girls; their interest in wanting to go back to school was encouraging, understanding the opportunities that would ensue for themselves and their families to live a better life. I applaud the government in collaboration with traditional leaders, cooperating partners for undertaking bold steps to end early marriages,” she said.

The launch is aimed at addressing high rates of early marriages which are observed as both a cause and consequence of Gender Based Violence and a major contributor to the high maternal mortality rates. Zambia is among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages in the world. Despite the difficulties of getting reliable data, it is estimated that almost half of Zambian women are married at age 13 while the legal age is 21 years.

A UNFPA sub-analysis of the 2007 Zambia Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) indicated that two out of five girls (about 42%) were married before their 18th birthday. This analysis also showed that girls living in poverty and in rural areas faced a higher risk of early marriages and most especially those without access to education.

The 2013 MDG Progress report indicates early marriages as one of the triggers of maternal mortality. It is estimated that 38 mothers die each month due to complications relating to pregnancy and child birth in Zambia. These conditions are disproportionately pronounced among teen mothers. Thus, maternal mortality is still high and only declining at a very slow rate from 649 deaths/per 100,000 live births in 1997 to 483 (UNFPA 440) in 2010.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) working with other UN Agencies - UNFPA, UNICEF, ILO and IOM -, with financial support from the Governments of Sweden and the Republic of Ireland led the development of the United Nations Joint Programme on Gender Based Violence.

The programme is aimed at reducing GBV in Zambia through establishment of integrated and multisetoral mechanism for implementation of the GBV Act. The US$15 million programme will provide women experiencing GBV with increased access to timely and appropriate health services; an efficient justice delivery system; protection and support services. It is expected to end in December 2016 and will contribute directly and indirectly to the reduction in maternal mortality in Zambia.