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Zambia: Protection, services and legal recourse available to women who are victims of domestic violence (2005-2006)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 22 February 2007
Citation / Document Symbol ZMB102101.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Zambia: Protection, services and legal recourse available to women who are victims of domestic violence (2005-2006), 22 February 2007, ZMB102101.E, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A 2006 news article published by the Chinese news agency Xinhua notes that, according to a report by Zambia's Non-Governmental Organization Coordinating Council (NGOCC), 57 percent of married Zambian women are physically abused by their husbands (Xinhua News Agency 26 Nov. 2006). In reference to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) document released in 2005, the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA) reported that 91 percent of Zambian women experience domestic violence (OANA 13 Oct. 2005). This statistic could not be corroborated by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response; however, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005 describes domestic violence in Zambia as "a serious problem" (US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5). Human Rights Watch (HRW) made a general statement that domestic violence "is a central cause of HIV exposure in marriage," and as an example, noted that in Zambia married women had a 10 percent higher HIV prevalence rate than unmarried women (HRW 31 May 2005).

Article 23 of the Zambian constitution enshrines protection from discrimination, including on the basis of sex and marital status (Zambia 1996). This protection from discrimination does not, however, apply to legislation related to "adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other matters of personal law" (ibid.). This means that, in fact, Article 23 permits laws that discriminate in these areas, according to Women and Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) (The Times of Zambia 15 Nov. 2006). In addition, the constitution privileges customary laws based on long-established practices "... to the exclusion of all other laws" (ibid.). As a result, says the WILDAF, women are subject to discrimination and domestic violence under cover of customary laws (ibid.).

A 2004 news article quotes Mary Silavwe Mulenga, a former executive director of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Zambia, as saying that there is no legislation criminalizing violence against women in Zambia (All Africa 2 Aug. 2004). WILDAF notes that Zambian law "does not explicitly address certain forms of domestic violence" (The Times of Zambia 15 Nov. 2006; US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 5; Freedom House 2005), such as intra-marital rape, physical assault, early marriage, neglect, and emotional and psychological abuse (The Times of Zambia 15 Nov. 2006).

According to Amnesty International (AI), a bill to broaden the definitions of sexual offences and their penalties, found in the Zambian Penal Code, passed a second reading in parliament in December 2005 (AI 2006). In November 2006, the YWCA of Zambia indicated that the draft bill was before parliament and expected to become law in 2007 (UN 27 Nov. 2006). Although President Mwanawasa indicated a desire to incorporate the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into Zambian law, AI noted that this had not taken place by the end of 2005 (2006). Information on whether CEDAW was incorporated into national law was not found among sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

The government of Zambia provides the following information on the Zambian police's Victim Support Unit, which was established in 1994 as part of its Police Reforms Programme (Zambia 27 Mar. 2006):

The Unit is mandated to deal with issues involving vulnerable persons in the society who mainly include women, children and aged persons. ... The Unit equally provides counselling and empathy to victims of rape, incest, defilement and child abuse. It also reports on perpetrators of such offences so as to enable arrests and prosecution. ...

The Victim Support Unit has had positive impact on society. It has successfully intervened in cases involving property grabbing (which were rampant), rape, defilement, incest, assault cases/domestic violence (wife battering). The Unit also spearheaded a vigorous educational and sensitisation campaign, which is aimed at changing people's attitudes and mindsets towards vulnerable persons. (ibid.)

The coordinator of the Victim Support Unit, Peter Kanaka, outlined some of the unit's challenges in a workshop paper presented at an annual campaign against gender violence (The Times of Zambia 15 Nov. 2006). These included inequality between men and women, the control of women by men, cultural norms that sanction abuse of women, inadequate legislation and the absence of stringent enforcement mechanisms for gender-based violence (ibid.). In a separate workshop, Kanaka (also cited as Kanunka), identified the victim's fear of family conflict, lack of information and resources, and difficulty accessing services as constraints to the unit's work (HSRC July 2006, 96-97).

Freedom House assesses the criminal justice system in Zambia as follows:

The criminal justice system is poorly equipped to handle spousal or sexual abuse issues. Police departments remain male-dominated, with little experience with or understanding of gender-sensitive issues. The police are reluctant to intervene when perpetrators justify their acts in the name of cultural practice. (2005, Sec. 4.57)

WILDAF notes that there is no requirement for the courts to adopt special measures in cases of domestic violence, such as in-camera hearings (The Times of Zambia 15 Nov. 2006).

Mary Silavwe Mulenga, former executive director of the YWCA in Zambia, is quoted in a news article as saying that the YWCA runs "drop-in centers" and provides counselling services for women and children (All Africa 2 Aug. 2004). According to Mulenga, the YWCA operates the only women's shelter in Zambia (ibid.). Katembu Kaumba, the current executive director of the YWCA in Zambia, states that the organization has only two "safe houses," one of which is for girls, and notes that the shelters are "full all the time" (UN 27 Nov. 2006).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


All Africa. 2 August 2004. Jill Sudhoff-Guerin. "Zambia: Steps Forward for Women's Economic and Political Empowerment." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

Amnesty International (AI). 2006. "Zambia." Amnesty International Report 2006. [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

Freedom House. 2005. "Country Report – Zambia." Countries at the Crossroads 2005. [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 31 May 2005. "Letter to the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda." (Factiva)

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). July 2006. "Country Profile Zambia." Reclaiming Our Lives. Edited by Kaori Izumi. < [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA). 13 October 2005. Dharam Shourie. "Two-third Married Indian Women Victims of Domestic Violence: UN." (Factiva)

The Times of Zambia [Lusaka]. 15 November 2006. Margaret Mangani. "Zambia: Campaigning Against Gender Violence." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]

United Nations (UN). 27 November 2006. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Zambia: More than 10 Girls Raped Every Week." [Accessed 19 Dec. 2006]

United States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Zambia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 6 Feb. 2007]

Xinhua News Agency [Beijing]. 26 November 2006. "Over Half of Zambian Women Victims of Abuse: Statistics." (Factiva)

Zambia. 27 March 2006. "Zambia Police Service." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2006]
_____ . 1996. Constitution of Zambia. (The Zambian) [Accessed 15 Dec. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Medical Women Association of Zambia, Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), The Post, Reliefweb, Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), Women for Change, Zambia Alliance of Women, Zambia Women's National Lobby Group.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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