The Committee on the Rights of the Child has concluded its consideration of the combined fifth to seventh periodic report of Zambia, with Committee Experts asking about children exposed to lead contamination in mines and about customary laws which allowed child marriage.
Gehad Madi, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Zambia, said the Committee was seriously concerned about the use of child labour in artisan mining and the exposure of these children to high-level lead contamination. How was the State party testing and treating children from lead poisoning? How were children being protected, and what remedies were provided for those who became disabled due to lead poisoning or their involvement in mining?
Another Expert noted that the marriage act set the age of marriage at 21 years, yet recognised the practice of customary marriage, which permitted child marriage when the child hit puberty. What was being done to address these cultural traditions and beliefs which existed in Zambian society, particularly in rural areas?
Responding to questions on child labour, the delegation said Zambia had mobilised resources from the World Bank, which were intended to address the exposure of children to high levels of lead. The Government was working closely with partners to implement interventions aimed at addressing the problems which were the result of lead contamination. Heath-related interventions included the blood screening of children, with those found to have a high level of lead provided with the appropriate treatment.
With respect to child marriage, the delegation said there were provisions in the law which indicated that customary law was acceptable in Zambia. The Zambian Law Commission was managing the process to ensure a way to eliminate the marriage of children under the age of 18. Consensus had been reached with traditional leaders that there was a need to do away with child marriage, however, this needed to be formalised. The President of Zambia was currently the champion of ending child marriage under the African Union, with this being a high priority under his leadership.
Introducing the report, Mulambo Haimbe, Minister of Justice of Zambia and head of the delegation, said Zambia had held Presidential and Parliamentary elections in August 2021, resulting in the election of the new President and his administration, now referred to as the new dawn government. Zambia had initiated the process of constitutional review, which would focus on developing the most effective approaches toward constitutional reform and an enhanced bill of rights, which would incorporate the rights of children. The child code bill 2022 had also been approved and was awaiting presentation to the full cabinet, before submission to parliament.
Mr. Haimbe said that despite the progressive development highlighted, there had been challenges, including limited infrastructure in the education and health sectors; inadequate human resources, in the health, education and the social protection sectors; and high child poverty levels.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Madi noted the good intention of the new dawn government to make a complete turnaround for the enhancement and protection of children’s rights in Zambia. The age of criminal responsibility remained a serious issue which needed to be attended to, as was the issue of children being recruited in the army under the age of 18. He expressed hope that next time they met, all issues would be resolved.
The process had been an eye opener, as there were clearly areas where lapses needed to be addressed. The new dawn government was committed to achieving the closure of many items which needed to be addressed and had the intention of making as many strides as possible for the justice of all Zambians, including children. Zambia looked forward to the next meeting with the Committee.
The delegation of Zambia consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services; and the Permanent Mission of Zambia to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Zambia at the end of its ninetieth session on 3 June.