ZAMBIA: Children's Rights in the UN Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity

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Report by the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty

Visit undertaken from 20 to 28 August 2009

Report A/HRC/14/31/Add.1

Issues raised:


Poverty: Despite Zambia ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, measures to ensure children’s rights remain insufficient. Moreover, almost half of the Zambian population living in extreme poverty are children. (Paragraph 22).

Such a high poverty rate amongst children is coupled with an orphan crisis in Zambia. Almost 20 per cent of all children in Zambia are either orphans or have lost one parent. Most children lose their parents to HIV/AIDS.Children without both parents are more likely to experience poverty than non-orphaned children, and orphans experience the highest poverty rates. (Paragraph 23).

Malnutrition: As a result of poverty, malnutrition is widespread among children: according to the Government, 14.6 per cent of children under 5 years of age were underweight in 2007. Child labour is also common, an estimated 47 per cent of children between 7–14 years old were economically active in 2005, with most of them unable to attend school. (Paragraph 24).

Birth registration: The official registration of children is still far from systematic and this creates further challenges as regards their well-being. In Zambia, only 14 per cent of the children under the age of 5 have birth certificates. Undocumented children have less access to public services. Moreover, their right to an identity under the Convention on the Rights of the Child is violated. Undocumented children are also likely to be ignored by statistics that guide public policies. (Paragraph 25).

Poverty: Children must be at the centre of any poverty reduction strategy. During her visit, the expert was informed of the Government plan to scale up and expand social cash transfer schemes through the establishment of a child grant. This element is analysed further below. (Paragraph 26).

School feeding programme: Zambia has implemented the School Feeding Programme since 2003. Sponsored by the World Food Programme, the programme addresses the nutritional needs of school-aged children with the aim of improving their well-being, increasing enrolment and attendance rates, and enhancing their overall school performance. A significant drawback of the programme has been identified in the selection of families eligible for take-home rations. Some vulnerable families have not been targeted and community relations have also been strained. Furthermore, the programme relies on local volunteers to prepare and distribute the school meals. This is hardly a long-term solution, especially when the additional burden is placed on teachers. (Paragraph 51).

Child grants: While the expert welcomes the plan to establish a child grant in five new districts, she stresses that the scheme must be designed, implemented and monitored in compliance with human rights obligations, in particular the principle of best interest of the child and that of gender equality. (Paragraph 82).

In the design of the scheme, children must not merely be seen as a target population but as the subjects of rights, and any evaluation of the scheme must be adequately child-focused. In addition, child protection mechanisms efforts must be incorporated into the scheme. For example, the scheme can be specifically designed to combat child labour, and policymakers can use the interaction with programme beneficiaries to raise awareness about child protection. (Paragraph 83).

Special attention should be paid to particularly vulnerable groups of children, such as orphans, street children, children with disabilities and child-headed households, which are detached from adult-headed households. They must not be excluded from the scheme. (Paragraph 84).

Given the links between women’s empowerment and children’s well-being, the incorporation of a strong gender approach and the aim to strengthen women’s empowerment through the design of the programme is very important. Child vulnerabilities are profoundly influenced by intra-household dynamics, in particular the balance of power between men and women in relation to decision-making control over resources and time use. Therefore, the person who receives the cash benefit within the household may have a crucial impact on children’s well-being. (Paragraph 85).

The improvement of net income to a household with children may only have very limited effects if the social services offered to these same children remain inadequate to meet their basic needs. For the scheme to be effective, significant investment in the provision of basic services such as safe drinking water and sanitation, education and health care must be put in place. Therefore, a child grant should be accompanied with investments and budgetary allocation at the district level to ensure access to good-quality services and programmes to support parents and communities in caring for and protecting children —and in particular girls — from violence and neglect. (Paragraph 86).


Report by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women

Visit undertaken from 6-11 December 2010

See press release

Issues raised:

Early marriage: Approximately 50 per cent of women are married by the age of 18. Education has an important consequence on the age of marriage and women with secondary school education or higher get married more than seven years later than those with no education. More than one-quarter of young women aged 15-19 have already begun childbearing: 22 per cent are mothers and an additional 6 per cent are pregnant with their first child. Young motherhood is more common in rural areas than in urban areas. The 2007 maternal mortality rate for Zambia was 591 per 100,000 live births. (Paragraph 10).

Early marriages still persist, particularly in rural areas, as parents perceive a girl child as a source of wealth. It is also reported that the practice of early marriages may contribute to high maternal mortality rates in the country as women who die in childbirth are mostly young and undergo prolonged labour or other complications. The persistence of early marriages combined with bride price places young girl s in an extremely vulnerable position. (Paragraph 23).

VIolence: Violence against children and particularly girl children is also pervasive in the country. A number of illustrative cases were brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention. These include the case of G.M., a 13-year-old girl, who was raped by the uncle she was living with following her mother’s death. G., a 14-year-old girl, was sexually abused at the age of six by her three older stepbrothers, while B.M., an orphan from Chinsali, was continuously raped by the uncle who was providing her with shelter and education. (Paragraph 25).

Trafficking: Zambia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Trafficking occurs within the country’s borders where women and children from rural areas are exploited in cities in involuntary domestic servitude or other types of forced labour. To a lesser extent, Zambia is a destination country for migrants from Malawi and Mozambique who are exploited in forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation. (Paragraph 27).

Violence: Violence against women, including defilement, rape, early marriages and survival sex, continues to be a major problem affecting women asylum seekers and refugees, both those in camps and settlements and those residing in urban areas outside the designated settlements. (Paragraph 29).

Detention: The Human Rights Commission is mandated by Section 9 of the Human Rights Commission Act, Chapter 48 of the Laws of Zambia, to assess and monitor the conditions in police and prison detention facilities, and it regularly undertakes inspections of such facilities throughout the country. The Commission reports point to general patterns of poor and degrading living conditions, including congestion of female wings in prisons, lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities, and dilapidated infrastructure not fit for human habitation. In addition, in many prison facilities including that visited by the Special Rapporteur, juvenile women offenders were held with adults; children and babies were living with their inmate mothers in distressing conditions; and female inmates on remand were held with female convicted inmates. (Paragraph 32).

Gender-based violence: During her visit, the Special Rapporteur noted the general excitement concerning the Anti-Gender Based Violence Bill 2010, which was before Parliament. She subsequently took note with appreciation that the Bill was passed by Parliament, in February 2011, and, at the time of writing, was awaiting Presidential approval. The production of specific legislation aimed at providing protection for women who have been subjected to violence is long overdue. The first step leading to the current Bill dates back to 2000 when the Technical Committee on Strengthening of Laws, Enforcement Mechanisms and Support Systems relating to Gender-Based Violence, particularly against Women and Children was constituted to make recommendations to deal with this problem. The Committee recommended, inter alia, that gender violence be defined and criminalized, and that specific legislation be enacted to address violence against women and children. The recommendations of the Committee led to the enactment of the Penal Code Amendment Act No. 15 of 2005 which made the provisions of the Penal Code related to violence against women and children (Chapter XV) more punitive. These amendments also created the new offences of sexual harassment and harmful cultural practices. (Paragraph 37).

Child abuse: Concerning defilement and abuse of children the word “unlawful” in article 138 of the Penal Code is problematic as it may suggest that there are instances in which one may have lawful carnal knowledge of a child. The age of the child (16) in section 138 is not in conformity with international human rights standards. In addition the offence of defilement appears to be perceived as possible only against girls whereas the Penal Code uses the term “child”. (Paragraph 55).

Early marriage: The Marriage Act stipulates a minimum age of 21 for a marriage to be contracted without the consent of parents or guardians. A number of provisions of this Act relating to age exemptions are however problematic. Section 33, for example, considers null and void a marriage between persons either of whom is under the age of 16 years. However, the same section is not applicable when a High Court judge has given consent to the marriage after receiving an application and being satisfied that the case is not contrary to public interest. In addition, section 17 permits a marriage when either party is less than 21 years of age, with the consent of the parents or guardians. This section, however, does not specify the minimum age of its application, thus in creasing the likelihood that marriages may be contracted by 16-year-olds and possibly younger persons, where there is parental consent. Finally, section 34 stipulates that “nothing in this Act shall affect the validity of any marriage contracted under or in accordance with any African customary law, or in any manner, apply to marriages so contracted”. (Paragraph 56).

Child custody: Local courts, which replaced native courts, administer justice according to customary law by virtue of the Local Courts Act, chapter 29 of the Laws of Zambia. They are at the lowest level in the hierarchy of the courts, and the most popular as they are cheap (litigants do not need lawyers), simple in nature and procedure, and easily accessible (generally present in every district and community). Besides simple torts, contracts and petty crimes, the main workload of local courts is the law relating to non-statutory marriages, namely divorce, reconciliation, custody of children, payment of malobola or lobola , pregnancy suits, compensation for adultery, elopement and devolution of the property of persons who die without a will. (Paragraph 76).


Requested visits

  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food (request accepted)
  • SRSG on the situation of human rights defenders
  • SR on toxic waste (requested in 2007)
  • Independent Expert on foreign debt (requested on 3 July 2012)
  • SR on independence of judges and lawyers (requested in 2012)



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