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Raising voices for change: PWRDF supports adolescents and girls in Zambia

Participants in peer groups that met to discuss child marriages, child rights, sexual and reproductive health issues and more at Omelo Mumba School in Zambia.

January 10, 2024

By Jacqueline Tucci

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In Katete district, Zambia, a PWRDF-supported project aims to reduce child marriages, promote sexual and reproductive health for adolescents and empower girls to realize their full potential. PWRDF is supporting the Zambian Anglican Council Outreach Program (ZACOP)’s Raising Adolescents’ Voices for Change project with a total $150,000 over three years. This project builds upon the successes, lessons learned and best practices established during the Ending Child Marriages project, which began in 2020 and concluded in 2023. 

Child marriage is the marriage of a person under the age of 18. Currently in Zambia, there are approximately 1.7 million child brides. Child marriage deprives girls of their reproductive health rights and prevents them from reaching their full potential; the education, health, dignity and quality of life of adolescent girls are all diminished through child marriage. Without these basic rights, girls cannot grow into healthy, skilled, productive, independent and responsible adults. The practice has become less common in Zambia in recent decades. According to Zambia’s Demographic and Health Surveys, child marriage rates declined from 42% in 2002 to 31% in 2014. Currently, 29% of all young women aged 20-24 married before the age of 18, while 5% married before the age of 15. Additionally, 3% of boys in Zambia are married before age 18. Despite the decline, the progress has not been rapid enough to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating child marriage by 2030. 

“There is still a lot of work to do to end child marriages,” said Jeanine Cudmore, a Program Coordinator with PWRDF who visited Katete district in Zambia with ZACOP partners in November of last year. 

“Partnering with teachers, church leaders, community leaders and government officials is helping to address the high percentage of child marriages in Katete district. When these influential people are involved in projects addressing long standing cultural practices like girls and boys becoming married before reaching age 18, their engagement has significant impact on changing the attitudes and beliefs of students, parents, parishioners and community members.” 

This new project phase – which began in October 2023 and will run until September 2026 – seeks to reduce child marriage through a mix of awareness-raising and skill-building activities. Building awareness is an integral step in continuing to decrease rates of child marriage in a sustainable way. Training and information sessions will be held for community leaders and community-based workers, faith leaders and parents within communities, to educate about child marriage and its impacts on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of girls and women. Psychosocial counsellors will be trained with the necessary skills to provide support and counselling to victims of child marriage and adolescents impacted by gender-based violence (GBV). Awareness-raising community events will also be held, including speaking engagements by the Bishop and activities for adolescents such as community theatre and sports-related activities. 

Through the previous PWRDF-supported Ending Child Marriages project, 5,088 children, including 3,132 girls and 1,956 boys, participated in sensitization sessions run by peer groups with the support of school and church leaders. In addition, 1,723 girls and boys participated in events recognizing 16 Days of Activism and Youth Day, while 1,345 adolescents attended soccer and netball sporting events where they learned about SRHR, GBV and child marriages. Reporting procedures to identify perpetrators of child marriage, including parents marrying off their daughters, were implemented by community leaders and teachers, through which 45 cases of GBV were identified during household visits and reported. 

Poverty can be a contributing factor in child marriage. To address this and work towards a sustainable solution, the Raising Adolescents’ Voices for Change project will include business and entrepreneurial skills training for adolescents and will offer start-up grants so girls and young women can begin their own small businesses. 

ZACOP is the development unit of the Zambian Anglican Church, coordinating development work and resources in the five dioceses of Zambia. 

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