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Lillian Banda – WNN Improve It

Zambian girls photo

Rural Zambian girls face physical dangers when being forced to marry at a young age. Image: Saraat

(WNN) Lusaka, ZAMBIA, EASTERN AFRICA: The Zambian Government has vowed to eliminate early marriages and violence against children. Ministry of Gender and Child Development Permanent Secretary Anne Sinyangwe told the Third Committee of the United Nations, which was discussing the ‘Promotion and protection of the rights of children” on Friday October 18 2013, in New York, that Zambia like many other countries has high prevalence of early and child marriages.

Conveying that the Government of Zambia must begin to recognize child and early marriages as an obstacle for children and young women in obtaining full productivity as adults, Sinyangwe outlined the government’s level of commitment to solve the problems facing girls in Zambian society.

“As the Government of Zambia promotes rights of children, including advancing the well-being of girl child, it has vowed to stem out the scourge of child and early marriages,” she said. “Zambia looks forward to having the component of children’s rights in all spheres of sustainable development with a strengthened position within the post 2015 development agenda.”

“I call for greater international cooperation and partnerships for the promotion and protection of the rights of children,” Sinyangwe continued.

According to Permanent Secretary Sinyangwe, bringing the issues surrounding disability to the mainstream in policy and programmes is cardinal and integral to children’s rights.

The Government of Zambia has also recently enacted new legislation to ensure that all children with disabilities receive their human rights and other fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children, outlined Mr. Chibaula D. Silwamba, First Secretary for Press and Public Relations for the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Zambia to the United Nations.

Introducing a number of interventions to ensure the elimination of early or forced marriages in the country Zambia’s government has put in place the Re-entry Policy which seeks to give a second chance to girls that become pregnant so they can get back to school after they go through childbirth.

This program hopes to encourage girls to start and stay in school until they complete their secondary education, which according to development experts is vital in reducing high poverty levels. The Re-entry Policy was introduced through Zambia’s Ministry of Education in 1997, but is now receiving a added push on all levels.

Improved re-entry rates back to school for girls who experienced early marriage and pregnancy did see a steady improvement from 2007 to 2010 from 17.6 percent in 2007 to 31.7 percent in 2010, according to the Zambian National Education Coalition.

Recognizing the importance of traditional leaders in the country who support education for the girl child, the Zambia Media Women Association (ZAMWA) fully supports the newly revived focus on health and education for girls. The organization has also commended the Forum For African Women Educationists in Zambia (FAWEZA), for financially supporting vulnerable children, particularly girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue their education.

“Without such support, many girls would have not attained higher levels of education,” asserts the chairperson for ZAMWA Ms. Felistus Chipako.

Working with other civil society organizations FAWEZA was an integral champion who brought the the Re-entry Policy into reality .

Today early or child marriages contribute to high numbers of maternal mortality statistics. Child marriage also increases poverty levels and perpetuates inequality, says global and local experts.

According to the United Nations (UN) reports, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries. Out of 16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, about 90 percent are already married.

UNICEF estimates some 50,000 girls die, almost all in low-to-middle income countries. Still births and newborn deaths are 50 percent higher among mothers who are under the age of 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s.

It should also be noted that ending child and early marriage is also crucial to meeting the upcoming Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are due to hit their date for completion in 2014. Millennium Development Goals numbers 3, 4 and 5 work to promote gender equality, reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health.

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