CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Addis Ababa
PRESIDENT Lungu yesterday received a glowing tribute from both outgoing and incoming Africa Union (AU) chairpersons Chad President Idriss Deby and Guinea President Alpha Conde, respectively, among other eminent personalities for vigorously championing the fight against child marriages.
And President Lungu, who hosted and chaired a high-level meeting attended by several heads of State, said Zambia considers ending child marriages as an opportunity to support girls and boys countrywide, especially in rural and peri-urban areas where the scourge is widespread.
This was on the sidelines of the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union (AU) heads of State and Government Summit which closed yesterday.
The summit was held under the theme: Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth.
Both Mr Deby and Mr Conde commended President Lungu for the initiative saying child marriage is a violation of rights and poses a challenge to the development of girl-children on the continent.
â€œI am firmly committed to achieving this goal to end child marriages,â€ Mr Deby said.
Outgoing AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also commended President Lungu for standing out in the fight against child marriages because it inhibits young children from reaching their full potential.
â€œStop looking at women as a tradable commodity. Child marriages should also be seen as a fight for women emancipation and we will succeed in this fight because we have male Presidents like President Lungu who are committed to fighting early marriages,â€ she said.
And President Lungu said the incidence of child marriages in Zambia has reduced from 42 percent to 31 percent between 2007 and 2016 due to administrative, policy and legislative measures put in place.
â€œSome of the interventions we have so far undertaken include the establishment of a consortium of Government ministries and civil society organisations on ending child marriage. Through this consortium, institutional and organisational gate-keepers on ending child marriage were appointed,â€ he said.
President Lungu also informed the meeting that Zambia has developed a National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage which was launched in 2016 and will be implemented over a period of five years.
He said Zambia has also realised the crucial role traditional leaders play in national development and has been engaging them as champions of change to end child marriages.
â€œMy Government provided resources to ensure that 14,000 girls were put in school in 2016 and retained until they complete their secondary school education.
â€œTo widen the net and make it sustainable, 75,000 women will be empowered to be economically viable and sustainable. This will enable women to pay for the girl-child and the boy-child who is vulnerable at household level,â€ he said.
President Lungu commended the United Nations for Population Fund (UNFPA) and other co-operating partners for their continued support to Governmentâ€™s efforts to end child marriage in Zambia.
â€œAfrica is at crossroads, this is the time to not only harness the demographic dividend but also to promote best practices favouring the rights and welfare of children, adolescents and the youth,â€ he said.
CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Addis Ababa