Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union that takes place before the age of 18. In many contexts, the practice has been shown to have profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, especially for girls. Children who are poor, live in rural areas and/or are out of school are disproportionally at risk of marrying young.
In Zambia, the Marriage Act sets the legal minimum age of marriage at 21 years. However, a child can marry from the age of 16 with written consent from their legal guardian. According to the 2018 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey, 9% of women aged 25 to 49 years were first married by the age of 15, as compared with less than 1% of men. 29% of women aged 20-24 years reported being married by age 18.
Adolescent girls between 10-19 years of age across their intersecting diversities (e.g. married, young mothers, single mothers, girls with disabilities, child and early marriages and GBV survivors) represent the most vulnerable populations related to SRHR outcomes.
To address these interconnected issues, and improve educational outcomes for the most marginalized communities, Restless Development Zambia implements the Chitetezo Project which is establishing safer and more resilient communities free of practices that harm women and girls. “Chitetezo” is a Chichewa word meaning Safety, Protection and Shield.
The project employs a community youth-led peer-to-peer approach and is being implemented in Eastern, Lusaka and Western Provinces. Using the Youth-led Research methodology, young volunteers lead the project’s efforts in strengthening efforts to end child marriages and work to establish a further understanding of the resulting harmful practices including teenage pregnancies and GBV.
Chikondi (fictitious name) is a survivor of child marriage. With education, she is very optimistic about bettering her future.
With support from the Unicef Zambia funded Chitetezo project, girls like Chikondi are raising awareness in their communities on ending child marriages, reducing teenage pregnancies and harmful practices such as elopement.
They have been supported by our young volunteers who have been trained to lead change in communities.
Through the Chitetezo – Ending Child Marriages Campaign, Chikondi and her peers conduct community dialogue meetings with policy makers, traditional leaders and religious leaders to address harmful practices such as elopement.
Chikondi and her peers work with teachers, traditional leaders, social workers and the police to protect child rights and get to the bottom of cases of abuse, including child marriage. Young gilrs lik Chikondi are unrivalled ambassadors for the life changing power of education and are gaining the support from powerful and influential traditional leaders.
Earning respect and support from traditional leaders
Traditional leaders, such as local Chiefs or village heads, are important allies in tackling child marriage. Through the commitment, community spirit and expertise, girls like Chikondi are forming close partnerships with local authorities to be able to tackle early marriage and advocate for girls’ education together.
We met Chieftness Kawaza and she supported us.She welcomed us in the palace and supported our sensitization efforts in fighting child marriages.