Desmond Tutu: “We can end child marriage in Zambia if all work together”

Archbishop Tutu and Mabel van Oranje visit AGEP, a girls’ empowerment programme in Zambia, run by Population Council and YWCA Zambia.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu commends innovative work by government, civil society and traditional leaders in efforts to end child marriage.

18 September 2014

Lusaka, Zambia

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Zambia for its work to end the harmful practice of child marriage, which is prevalent in the country. Zambia has the 16th highest rate of child marriage in the world: 42% of girls are married by the age of 18.

During his visit to Zambia, Archbishop Tutu was joined by HRH Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. They met First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, a wide group of government ministers, traditional chiefs, religious leaders, youth activists, diplomats and international donors, UN agencies and civil society organisations working at the grassroots to end child marriage. They also heard directly from child brides about the challenges they face in their daily life.

At the conclusion of the four-day visit, Archbishop Tutu praised all those who are working to prevent girls from marrying as children, including the government, civil society organisations and traditional leaders.

Archbishop Tutu said:

“As a grandfather, it pains me to hear the stories of girls who have married as children. The suffering of so many of God’s daughters brings me deep sorrow, but the spirit of the girls we have spoken to is indomitable.

“It is encouraging to see that the government, civil society, traditional leaders and others in Zambia have recognised that child marriage has a devastating impact on girls and the nation as a whole. I am impressed by the determination of all those we have met who are working to bring an end to this scourge. But the challenge of child marriage remains pressing.”

Child marriage is a significant contributor to illiteracy (married girls almost always drop out of school), maternal mortality (girls under 18 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy or labour than women in their early 20s), gender based violence (married girls are highly vulnerable to forced sex and domestic violence), and HIV/AIDS (married girls are more likely to become infected with HIV than unmarried girls the same age).

“I urge all Zambians to build on the commitment you have shown and to do all that you can to provide girls with alternatives to marriage. We have seen how empowerment programmes can transform a girl’s life, increasing her confidence and her ability to make choices about her own future. We also need to make sure that education, health and other services are accessible and affordable especially for adolescent girls – married and unmarried,” continued Archbishop Tutu.

“I commend the Zambian government for launching a national campaign to end child marriage. It was also remarkable to meet traditional leaders who see the need to amend those traditions that hold girls and their communities back.

“I am confident that we can end child marriage in one generation but we must work together. Everyone in Zambia has a role to play in ending this harmful practice – government, traditional and religious leaders, parents, NGOs, the media, and young people, especially girls. By working in partnership, I know that you can achieve great things.

“Zambia was a great friend to South Africa during our struggle against apartheid. You are a nation that has long loved freedom. By addressing child marriage, Zambia will ensure the freedom of all its girl children and take its rightful place among the nations that are prosperous and progressive.”

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Extract from  Girls Not Brides Official Website (Press Release)