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Traditional leaders take lead to protect children against violence

Violence against children is still rife in Zambia. Among the common forms of violence in the country are child marriage, rape, child labour, trafficking, and neglect - particularly of orphaned children.

Traditional practices can be the cause of violence against children: child marriages, coming–of-age rituals, and usage of children in cleansing rituals.

Traditional leaders signing a declaration on child marriage

In many Zambian communities, marrying off girls in exchange for livestock and other goods is still not viewed as violence against them, or indeed considered as child abuse.

It’s not easy to change such practices that have been viewed as normal for so many years with in a short span of time.

It’s not easy to change such practices that have been viewed as normal for so many years with in a short span of time.

Rights based organisations are sometimes accused of eroding African culture for creating awareness on the rights of children and on the need to protect them from abuse and harm. However, we have made headway with our advocacy work to influence traditional leaders themselves to make changes to traditional practices that perpetuate violation of children’s rights. Working with other local CSOs, we have mobilised village chiefs, headpersons, and other custodians of culture such as traditional initiators – the “alangizi” - to be agents of change in discarding harmful practices.

In the Eastern Province, where girl’s initiation is a common harmful practice, and a key driver of child marriage, we have successfully advocated to change the teachings that girls receive during initiation ceremonies, so that healthy messages on sex, hygiene and good behavior are taught instead.

Traditional leaders have banned initiation of girls during school days, and the ceremony is now conducted only during school holidays. The leaders have gone further to develop an initiation curriculum with the support of Plan International Zambia. The curriculum is a reference book for initiators when they are initiating girls who have reached puberty.

Traditional leaders have also been critical in the fight against child marriage by issuing decrees and signing declarations to ban the practice in their chiefdoms. Some of their works have been covered by international media.*

* Plan International is not responsible for the content on external websites