LUSAKA — Traditional leaders have been called upon by stakeholders to be catalysts and role models in advocating for the enactment of laws that protect against child marriages and enforce new and existing child marriages laws.
By Phyllis Mbanje in Zambia
Addressing chiefs drawn from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi at a Sadc traditional leaders’ conference on ending child marriages, director for Plan International-Zambia, Samuel Musyoki, said community leaders were promoters and protectors of human rights.
“The leaders are custodians of laws, norms, and values that are to the protection and fulfilment of child rights,” Musyoki said.
He said as traditional leaders, they were better placed to not only lobby for the enactment of legislation for girls, but to also enforce child protection laws.
“Traditional leaders should hold each other and their governments accountable in ensuring that the practice of early and forced marriages is brought to an end,” Musyoki said.
Zambian human rights lawyer Lilian Mushota said there was need to harmonise laws, especially those that contradicted each other.
She said although many countries were signatories to several international laws discouraging the practice, the vice was still a challenge.
“A decade now from, 100 million women will have been married before the age of 18,” Mushota said.
Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi have some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
More than 50% of girls in Mozambique and 40% of girls in Zambia marry before the age of 18. In Zimbabwe 31% of the girls get married before 18 years of age.
Globally, more than 700 million women are married before their 18th birthday and at least one in every three women enter into the marriage union before the age of 15.
Child marriages condemn millions of girls to related cycles of poverty and gender inequality. They are denied their childhood and often left socially isolated with limited opportunities for education and employment.
The conference was organised by Women for Change together with Plan International and Women in Law in Southern Africa (WILSA).
Plan International is currently running a programme called 18+ which covers Zimbabwe, Zambia Malawi, and Mozambique.
The initiative, which is part of a global campaign dubbed Because I Am A Girl, is aimed at mobilising girls on the risks of child marriage so that they are empowered enough to determine their own future.