Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment at hard labor. Rape was nonetheless widespread. The government increasingly enforced the law and obtained rape convictions with higher penalties.
The Anti-Gender-based Violence Act of 2010 criminalizes spousal rape, and the penal code criminalizes domestic violence between spouses and among family members living in one home. The law provides for prosecution of most GBV crimes, and penalties for conviction of assault range from a fine to 25 years in prison, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used during the assault. The law requires medical reports prepared by certified practitioners for the prosecution of cases of violence against women (and also against men), but there were few certified practitioners in rural areas. The law provides for protection orders for victims of domestic and gender violence, and such orders were issued and enforced. In 2014 the National Prosecutions Authority established a GBV-focused prosecution unit, and the government began work on GBV fast-track courts in Lusaka and Kabwe.
On July 15, the president pardoned singer Clifford Dimba who had served one year of an 18-year sentence for statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl. His pardon and subsequent appointment by the president as an ambassador in the fight against gender-based violence was denounced by Dubravka Simonovi, UN special rapporteur on violence against women, as “outrageous” decisions that traumatized “the victim all over again” and discouraged other victims from reporting similar offenses. UN officials called on the government to withdraw Dimba’s appointment and to refrain from any future pardons of persons convicted of crimes against women and girls. Women’s NGOs criticized the pardon of Dimba, claiming he was released because he wrote songs in support of the PF. Within days of his release, the press reported he had beaten his wife and that police did not arrest him. On October 29, he was accused of beating another woman but again was not arrested.
Domestic violence against women was a serious problem, and spousal abuse was widespread. According to a May 26 Afro Barometer survey on the prevalence of GBV, 90 percent of persons with no formal education approved of wife beating. The NGO Women in Law in South Africa (WLSA) observed that customary marriage values taught women sexual intercourse was a man’s right and discouraged reporting spousal rape. The WLSA also observed that women who revealed sexual violations to authorities often faced societal stigma, which in turn diminished future reporting. Customary laws in certain chiefdoms allowed for spousal battery. In addition fear of violence, abandonment, and divorce discouraged women from seeking HIV care and treatment services, especially where women were dependent on men for their livelihoods.
The ZPS Victims Support Unit (VSU) was responsible for handling cases of domestic assault, wife beating, mistreatment of widows, and property expropriation (“grabbing”) by a deceased husband’s relatives. Police pursued reports of domestic violence more aggressively than in previous years, and the government established a fast-track court in Lusaka for GBV cases. Data on the extent of rape and domestic violence were limited. A WLSA Kasama One-Stop GBV Treatment Center recorded 6,506 cases of GBV as of September, compared with 5,188 during the first half of 2014. The VSU recorded 164 rapes countrywide during the period, compared with 118 in 2014.
During the year the Nongovernmental Organization Coordinating Council (NGOCC) and its member organizations engaged traditional marriage counselors on GBV and women’s rights. The Young Women’s Christian Association continued its “good husband” campaign and, in collaboration with other women’s movements, the “I Care about Her” campaign, to promote respect for women and end spousal abuse.
The WLSA reported women’s groups’ advocacy and sensitization resulted in increased reporting of GBV cases. Police, however, reported a marked rise in the number of withdrawn GBV complaints and encouraged women’s movements to sensitize women against seeking out-of-court reconciliation. Women often cited need for their incarcerated husband’s financial support in requesting withdrawal of complaints. Courts prevented several women from withdrawing complaints during the year. On August 17, the Choma Magistrate Court denied Miriam Moyo’s application to withdraw a GBV case against her husband, Evans Simwale.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The NGOCC and several of its member organizations observed that the country’s dual system of customary and statutory law made it difficult to end injustices against women. For instance polygyny is legally permitted under customary law. Women’s organizations stated that the bride price had entrenched societal patriarchal dominance. The practice of “sexual cleansing,” in which a widow is compelled to have sexual relations with her late husband’s relatives as part of a cleansing ritual, declined significantly; some local leaders banned the practice. The penal code prohibits “sexual cleansing” of girls under age 16.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common, but the government took some steps to prosecute harassment during the year. The penal code contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women may be prosecuted. The NGOCC stated it received many reports of sexual harassment in places of work but expressed concern that stringent evidence requirements in courts of law prevented victims from litigating. For example on May 17, the Zambia National Information Service reported a Chinese employer in Serenje, identified only as Tu, threatened to fire Caren Mupeta because she refused to have sexual relations with him. Women’s organizations expressed concern regarding increased incidents of unemployed youth on the street stripping women naked as a way of punishing them for wearing “uncultured dress.” The NGOCC and its members also noted families of perpetrators often pressured victims to withdraw complaints, especially if they were members of the same family. This hampered prosecution of offenders.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. A lack of access to information and services remained a problem, however. Many women lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. The 2013-14 Zambia Health and Demographic Survey (ZDHS) indicated significant improvements in these areas: 45 percent of women ages 15-49 accessed modern family planning methods in 2013-14, compared with 33 percent in 2007. The percentage of childbirths assisted by a skilled provider increased from 47 percent in 2007 to 64 percent in 2013-14. Teenage pregnancy, reported to be 151 per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19, remained a concern, with the median age of the first sexual encounter for women at age 17 and the median age of the first child at age 19, indicating limited contraceptive use among teenagers.
According to the 2013-2014 ZDHS, maternal mortality rate declined from 591 per 100,000 live births in 2007 to 398 in 2014. The Ministry of Health attributed 30 percent of maternal mortality cases to unsafe abortions, mostly among adolescent girls. The major direct causes of maternal mortality were complications arising during pregnancy and birth, such as hemorrhage, septicemia (blood poisoning), obstructed labor, hypertensive conditions, and unsafe abortion. Barriers that continued to limit access to reproductive health services included limited information, inadequate staffing of rural clinics, lack of infrastructure and transport, cost, religious reasons, and misperceptions surrounding contraceptive use.
Discrimination: In contrast to customary law, the constitution and statutory law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality laws. Nevertheless, the government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.), education, inheritance, and ownership of land and other property.
Women’s movements noted women lacked adequate access to credit to acquire land or property. Lack of collateral meant women in most cases remained dependent on their husbands or male members of their family to cosign for loans. A lower percentage of women than men owned their own homes or businesses.
Statutory law prescribes that a man’s children equally share half of an estate, the widow 20 percent, other dependents 10 percent, and the deceased’s parents 20 percent. In a polygynous marriage, a widow’s share must be divided proportionally with other wives, based on the length of time each has stayed in the marriage. Property grabbing from widows remained widespread, particularly in rural areas. Courts generally considered property grabbing a criminal offense and mandated up to three years’ imprisonment as punishment. Nevertheless, because of high legal costs and delays in adjudication caused by an overloaded judicial system, most property-grabbing cases were settled by local customary courts, which do not have the power to impose prison sentences. With very few exceptions, most property grabbing cases revolved around family disputes. Fines imposed by customary courts were low.
Local customary law generally discriminates against women. It subordinates women with respect to property ownership, inheritance, and marriage. Land ownership was restricted for women: when a woman’s husband dies, only their son or the paternal side of the family may inherit his property.