Mary: Zambia - Equality Now


Mary - Zambia

To address the rampant rape, or “defilement,” of minors in Zambia, Equality Now supported Mary in her case against a teacher who raped her when she was 13-years-old.


Mary’s teacher called her to his house under the pretext of picking up her exams. Instead, he raped her.
When the incident was reported, the principal indicated that this was not the first time this teacher had assaulted a student - but, in spite of this, the school had not taken any action against him. On the insistence of Mary’s aunt, the teacher was arrested - but he was subsequently released and was not prosecuted.

Mary is awarded damages

We worked with a pro bono lawyer who brought a civil case on Mary’s behalf against the Ministry of Education, the school, and the Attorney General.

In 2008, in a landmark decision, the High Court in Lusaka awarded Mary damages ($14,000) for pain and suffering, mental torture, aggravated damages, and medical expenses.

Calling the police’s failure to bring charges against the teacher “a dereliction of duty,” the judge referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal prosecution. He further urged the Ministry of Education to set regulations to prevent more students from being raped by teachers.

We advised Mary’s lawyers on regional and international treaties that Zambia has ratified that protect the rights of women and girls. As a result, the High Court judgment cites the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). This judgment represents a step forward for Zambia to put the Protocol into practice. In 2009, following our continued advocacy efforts, Zambia withdrew its objections to the Protocol, and the landmark ruling became final.

Our Girls, Our Future

To support Mary’s case, and to respond more strategically to the issue of abuse against girls, we helped convene a coalition of Zambian civil society organizations. The coalition put together a comprehensive project to end violence against girls in Zambia through a multi-layered approach that involved:

• Empowering girls
• Providing girls with health and legal services
• Reforming laws
• Raising awareness about violence against girls
• Monitoring the adoption of the Ministry of Education’s measures to prevent and address rape by teachers and other forms of sexual violence against girls.

Funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, Equality Now coordinated a three-year project resulting in:

• School guidelines to prevent sexual violence in schools presented to the Zambian Ministry of Education.
• Safe Spaces programs in six schools, empowering 1,652 girls
• Training for more than 79 lawyers and 30 paralegals on how to provide legal support to girls, 40 healthcare workers on how to better recognize and respond to signs of sexual abuse, and 92 journalists on how to better report on cases of sexual violence
• Greater public awareness through community plays, radio shows, and public service announcements including “Our Girls, Our Future”, a documentary on ending violence against girls in Zambia, which has been distributed widely around the country.


The outcome of Mary's case set a precedent that helped in the case of two girls who were similarly raped by their teacher in Nakuru, Kenya in 2010.

Their historic constitutional case was brought by several of our partners and led by the Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW). In May 2015, the Kenyan High Court handed down a landmark ruling mandating the State’s responsibility to protect all students from sexual and gender-based violence or harm by teachers and declaring sexual violence against students a violation of their rights to human dignity, health, and education. Notably, the case also resulted in damages awarded to the plaintiffs. During the proceedings, Mary's case was used to bolster the call for damages and State responsibility in the Kenyan trial.