Zambia - The Marriage Act - Equality Now
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Zambia - The Marriage Act

  • Country: Zambia
  • Law status: Discriminatory law in force
  • Law Type: Child, Early & Forced Marriage

When young girls are forced to marry, they face potentially lifelong harmful consequences. They are essentially subject to state-sanctioned rape and are at risk of increased domestic violence, forced pregnancy, and negative health consequences while being denied education and economic opportunity.

Laws prohibiting child marriage for both girls and boys, without any exceptions, are needed to make explicit the States’, and societies’ understanding that young people need time to understand their independent circumstances before entering into a lifelong contract that will affect many aspects of their lives.

The Law:

Sections 17 and 34 of Zambia’s Marriage Act exempt all marriages under any African customary law from the minimum age of marriage requirements (normally 21 years) under the law. There is no minimum age of consent to marry under Zambian customary law as current customary practice allows any girl who attains puberty to get married.

17. If either party to an intended marriage, not being a widower or widow, is under twenty-one years of age, the written consent of the father, or if he be dead or of unsound mind or absent from Zambia, of the mother, or if both be dead or of unsound mind or absent from Zambia, of the guardian of such party shall be produced.

34. Any person who is married under this Act or whose marriage is declared by this Act to be valid, shall be incapable during the continuance of such marriage of contracting a valid marriage under any African customary law, but, save as aforesaid, nothing in this Act contained 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.

Zambia’s Response to List of Issues and questions with regard to the Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (2011):
The State party reports that there is no minimum age of consent to marry for women under customary law. This is because the current customary practice allows any girl who attains puberty to get married.

Note: Customary law, which is explicitly excluded from the purview of the Marriage Act, is not codified in writing. The Zambian Government officially confirmed in its response to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that, “there is no minimum age of consent to marry for women under customary law”.

Section 23 of the Constitution of Zambia: (1) Subject to clauses (4), (5) and (7), no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect….
(3) In this Article the expression “discriminatory” mean, affording different treatment to different persons attributable, wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, tribe, sex, place of origin, marital status, political opinions colour or creed…
(4) Clause (1) shall not apply to any law so far as that law makes provision…
c. with respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other matters of personal law;
d. for the application in the case of members of a particular race or tribe, of customary law with respect to any matter to the exclusion of any law with respect to that matter which is applicable in the case of other persons..

Link to full law

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