Child Protection

Children have the right to grow up in a safe and supportive environment free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

A child clings to his mother's dress

The challenge

Protecting children’s rights is crucial to the survival, health and well-being of Zambia’s new generation.

Violence against children affects boys and girls across the country.

Children experience violence in a wide variety of settings, ranging from home and school, to institutions and the judicial system. Being exposed to different types of violence, be it physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, is painful and can be traumatic. More importantly, such experiences in childhood have a strong association with future violence victimization and perpetration, lower education attainment, health and social problems across a person's life.

Corporal punishment practices are high in Zambia and violence in schools has been widely recognized as a concern. Among young people aged 18-24 years in Zambia, 20 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men reported experiencing sexual violence before they were 18 years of age, while 34 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men reported experiencing physical violence. 6,413 children are living in residential care institutions, highlighting the need for a family-based alternative care system that will allow for children to grow up within a family unit. An estimated 1.3 million children aged 5-14 years are engaged in child labour, reinforcing the inter-generational poverty cycle, which undermines the national economy and impedes progress. 

Birth registration is one of the first means of protecting a child's rights, and is compulsory in Zambia, as one of the most powerful instruments in ensuring equity in a broad array of services and interventions. Unfortunately, only 11 per cent of children under the age of 5 are registered with 4 per cent having birth certificates.

Many child marriages in Zambia occur because of poverty, limited access to education, teenage pregnancy, and violence in their homes.

Children are marrying children in an effort to improve their lives and to enhance their status within the community. As a consequence of Zambia’s economic and social circumstances, many children and families are constrained by the lack of viable alternative options to advance in life. Raising awareness on its own will not reduce child marriage; it needs to be accompanied by improving access to quality services and expanding options for future growth and development.

A UNICEF supported nationwide child detention monitoring in 2016 found over 1,000 children, including migrant and circumstantial children, in prisons or police cells. Many of the children in conflict with the law were in detention for minor offences. Their detention can be prolonged, sometimes for years, due to the slow processing of their cases. In the absence of a functioning 'diversion' programme, children in conflict with the law are often incarcerated in correctional institutions and are also frequently housed with the adult population.

Child protection issues in numbers:

  • Only 11 per cent of children under the age of 5 have registered births, with 4 per cent having birth certificates
  • 11.3 per of children have lost one or both parents
  • 31.4 per cent of women aged 20-24 years were married before the age of 18
  • 58.9 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years are pregnant or have already delivered a baby
  • 20.3 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men aged 20-24 years experienced sexual violence as children

The solution

UNICEF’s child protection programme supports the Government in developing a strong child protection system to provide prevention services and adequate responses to victims and survivors of violence. We focus on the following key areas:

  • Increasing the number of children registered and issued with a birth certificate
  • Ending child marriage and addressing violence against children
  • Strengthening integrated case management for child and family welfare
  • Improving the alternative care system for children
  • Strengthening child justice administration for children in conflict with the law

In recognition of the importance of child protection, the Government has a legislative framework and protection system that encompasses a range of prevention and response mechanisms. Through advocacy, technical advice and facilitation, UNICEF has supported the Government to develop and adopt key polices including the National Child Policy, the Alternative Care Guidelines and the National Plan of Action on Ending Child Marriage. The President of Zambia has been recognised as a champion on ending child marriages in Africa as a result of the action and commitment displayed by the Government. 

To build evidence on violence against children, UNICEF and the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supported the Government to conduct the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS), which was implemented by the University of Zambia and the Central Statistical Office. The Ministry of Gender is in the process of strengthening its policies and programming on gender-based violence and has created One Stop Centres at district and community level in response to gender-based violence and the VACS. The United Nations’ Joint Programme on Gender Based Violence of which UNICEF Zambia was a partner, has been supporting these efforts for the past few years.

In line with international standards, the Government is reforming the child justice sector. Child Justice Forums have been set up in 50 of the 105 districts. The forums help coordinate those involved in the child justice sector with the aim of improving child justice administration. With support from UNICEF Zambia, the Government has developed a National Framework on Diversion with a Multi-sectoral Training Manual as a basis for the piloting which will be implemented over the next few years.

To address the bottlenecks in the birth registration process, the government has decentralised birth certification through amendment of the Births and Deaths Registration Act. The Government has also developed the National Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Strategic Action Plan. A National Steering Committee, of which UNICEF Zambia is a member, has been established to co-ordinate the implementation of the plan.