Although it’s not a secret that Zambia is committed to reducing early marriages and teen pregnancies, the challenge remains huge due to the dominant social norms about gender and power relations that shape attitudes of girls and boys, traditional leaders, parents and community members.
This is why Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) Zambia in partnership with the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Zambia (FAWEZA) responded to a challenge by the SDG Philanthropy Platform's call for the most “promising innovations to improve the well-being of children in Zambia within identified Intervention Pathways.”
An exciting challenge
“We’re excited to be among the recipients of this fund because with our partner FAWEZA we work to attain among other things Gender and Economic Justice in Zambia,” said the Country Director of Norwegian Church Aid in Zambia, Mr. Harald Nyeggen Sommer.
He added: “It’s impossible for Zambia to reach its 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development without including women who make over half of the Zambia’s population. To unleash the power of women in Zambia, we need to prevent early pregnancies and marriages since they’re a major cause of school dropouts for the girl child.”
NCA and FAWEZA have named their innovation "Changing Communities One Family at a Time" to contribute towards the reduction in teenage pregnancies and prevention of child marriages in Zambia. The approach is centred around family units to change dominant negative social norms that affect the participation of children especially girls in education.
The families will be mobilised using a community structure called Community Action Group (CAG) which is a group of 10 volunteer parents (5 women and 5 men), who represent the composition and diversity of the local community or communities surrounding the school interested in uplifting the education of their children.
CAGS deal with structural factors that sustain harmful social norms impacting negatively on girl’s retention in school. They conduct basic psycho social counselling, monitor school girls attendance and make follow ups on girls’ prolonged school absenteeism. Most importantly, they create awareness on government affirmative gender policies such as Re-entry Policy.
CAG members work closely with school management within the already existing PTA structures and tracks girls dropout rates due to pregnancies and child marriages. They also provide basic psycho-social support to teen mothers and also encourage them to access antenatal services.
NCA’s Programme Officer for Gender Justice, Mwenya Chiti Mubuku, highlighted the importance of the new approach which targets family units to transform attitudes. “This approach challenges us to first change the attitude of families towards issues of children and we’re hopeful that this will help us accomplish tangible results, because issues of child marriage are most often a family issue and so to see results at a higher level there is need to address the family attitudes towards girls education”, she said.
Innovation builds on previous progress
The innovation will target five (5) families from the five (5) participating schools that often marry off young children and will provide capacity building for them to transform their attitudes and change them into model families during the pilot stage.
However, before families are selected, the communities around the participating schools will be sensitised on the harmful effects of child marriage and teen pregnancies and a community scorecard processes on child marriage and teenage pregnancies will be utilised in identifying the main causes and coming up with solutions to teen pregnancies and child marriages in their respective areas.
“The idea is to start with one family and consequently influence the whole community because communities themselves will begin to take up action hence ensuring sustainability,” said Mwenya Mabuku. “We are building up and strengthening certain aspects of what we have already been doing hence the duration for the project pilot is sufficient and helps us focus.”
A chance to change the narrative
Zambia has one of the highest prevalence of child marriage in Africa and this continues to adversely impact the physical, psychological, emotional and intellectual development of boys and girls in Zambia.
The drivers at individual and household level include personal beliefs and practices that promote child marriage and teen pregnancies with the individual influences often shaped by the environment where the girls live, and the personal situations they face.
Therefore, working with parents, traditional leaders, and community members to transform attitudes and identify viable alternatives is critical to ensuring that the rights of children are safeguarded.
Norwegian Church Aid is among the three organizations which emerged as finalists of the competitive “Innovation Challenge” launched by the SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia to source innovations to contribute to the well-being of children in the country. Other organisations are the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Council of Churches in Zambia. The three organisations will each receive a grant awards of up to US$40,000 to implement initiatives that boost the well-being of children in Zambia.