THE draft Marriage Bill which will soon be presented in Parliament has proposed 18 as the age for marriage from 21, Gender and Child Development Minister Nkandu Luo has said.

She said her ministry would soon table three Bills in Parliament in a bid to end rampant child marriages in Zambia.

Professor Luo was speaking on Wednesday at the opening ceremony of a National Follow-Up Workshop on Child Marriages Laws in Zambia.

“We are also going to table the child codification Bill that seeks to harmonize child related laws in progress,” she said.

Prof Luo said a quick analysis of the demographic health surveys revealed that Zambia was one of the countries with highest prevalence of child marriages estimated at 42 percent.

And Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, Joseph Katema has revealed that about 28.5 percent of the girls in Zambia begin childbearing before the age of 18.

He observed that girls in Zambia were exposed to many health risks including teen pregnancy, fistula, childbearing and motherhood before they are physically and psychologically ready for such responsibilities and pressures.

Dr Katema said child marriage was a violation of the right of children, adding that the vice deprived children of their right to education and employment, and made them more vulnerable to the risk of sexual and physical violence as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

He said according to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey Report of 2014, statistics indicated that child marriage was more common among 17 per cent girls.

“It is worth noting that only 2.2 percent of men between the 20 and 24 age group get married by 18, as compared with the 31 percent of women in the same age group. On the whole, marriage occurs relatively early in Zambia. Among women in the age group between 20 and 49, 45 percent of them were married by 18 years,” Dr Katema said.

He said available evidence indicated that there various factors that made children vulnerable to marriage.

Mr Katema said the factors included education and literacy levels of children, orphan hood, single parentage, levels of access to sexual and reproductive health services, gender-based violence as well as wealth levels.

And Secretary General of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Dr Esau Chiviya said ending child marriages was the forum’s top priority.

“It is a process and not an event. We need all hands on deck. The choice of Zambia for this follow-up workshop is perfectly given the courage and leadership that Zambia has shown in dealing with the child marriage problem,” he said.

Dr Chiviya congratulated countries in the SADC region that had begun the process of enacting laws to combating child marriages.