Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and other sexual offenses, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor.

The law does not include provisions for spousal rape. The law criminalizes domestic violence between spouses and among family members living in the same home. The law provides for prosecution of most crimes of gender-based violence, and penalties for conviction range from a fine to 25 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used. The law provides for protection orders for survivors of domestic violence and gender-based violence, and such orders were issued and enforced. Despite this legal framework, rape remained widespread. Although the law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, the government did not consistently enforce the law.

To address the problem of gender-based violence, the government engaged traditional marriage counselors on gender-based violence and women’s rights in collaboration with NGOs. The government and Young Women’s Christian Association worked to address these problems through community sensitizations, shelters, toll-free lines, and one-stop centers where survivors accessed counseling and legal support services. The Survivor Support Unit under the Zambia Police Service, staffed with trained personnel, supplemented these efforts. Other efforts to combat and reduce gender-based violence included curriculum development for training police officers, roadshows to sensitize the public about gender-based violence, and instruction on how to file complaints and present evidence against perpetrators.

A gender-based violence information management system in the government Central Statistics Office strengthened monitoring and reporting of cases of gender-based violence. The system, which allows for effective and comprehensive reporting of gender-based violence and improved support, including legal services, social, economic, and overall national planning, has increased the number of reported cases.

Human rights-focused NGOs observed that the country’s dual system of customary and statutory law made it difficult to combat and deter injustices against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. The NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa and other human rights-focused NGOs reported that labia elongation, the practice of pulling of the labia which is intended to elongate the labia, was widely practiced. There were, however, indications the incidence rate was declining, especially in urban areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common, and the government took few steps to prosecute harassment during the year. Although the law contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women may be prosecuted, the provisions are inadequate to protect women effectively from sexual harassment. The NGO Gender Organizations’ Coordinating Council received many reports of sexual harassment in the workplace but noted stringent evidence requirements often prevented survivors from filing charges against their harassers. Family pressure on survivors to withdraw complaints, especially when perpetrators were also family members, also hampered prosecution.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Lack of access to information and services, however, remained a problem. Many women lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential prenatal, intrapartum, and postpartum care.

Barriers to access to reproductive health services included myths and misconceptions regarding contraceptive use and inadequate reproductive health infrastructure, including insufficient skilled health-care providers, communication, and referral systems. These barriers were greatest in remote, hard-to-reach rural areas, contributing to significant inequalities in access to and availability of maternal and reproductive services. Access to menstrual health and hygiene remained limited due to inadequate knowledge and poverty resulting in inadequate funds to buy menstrual hygiene products. Teen pregnancy also remained a barrier to education, but under the reentry policy girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy are readmitted into school after delivery. Barriers to accessing post-abortion care (PAC) included lack of information and inadequate sensitization on the existence of PAC services, limited resources to provide PAC services, and inadequate skilled staff, infrastructure, equipment, and commodities.

Through the Zambia-UN Joint Program on Gender Based Violence, the government provided survivors of sexual violence access to sexual and reproductive health services. Although emergency contraception was available, service delivery points did not stock it due to funding gaps in the procurement process and the stigma associated with getting the commodity in public health centers. There was, however, an increased uptake of emergency contraception in private health centers.

The maternal mortality ratio was 278 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018. The three major causes of maternal mortality were postpartum hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and septicemia. According to the Zambia 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 80 percent of childbirths were assisted by a skilled provider, the pregnancy rate for girls and women between ages 15 and 19 was 29 percent, and the median age of having the first child was 19, indicating limited contraceptive use among teenagers.

Discrimination: In contrast to customary law, the constitution and other laws provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality laws. The government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination. For example, customary land tenure and patriarchal systems discriminate against women seeking to own land. This situation restricted women’s access to credit as they lacked the collateral that land ownership provides.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits any form of discrimination including on ethnicity, and there were no reports of violence or discrimination based on ethnicity. The government generally permitted autonomy for ethnic minorities and encouraged the practice of local customary law. Some political parties maintained political and historical connections to tribal groups and promoted their interests. There are seven major ethnic and language groups, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Ngoni, and Tonga, and 66 smaller ethnic groups, many of which are related to the larger tribes.

The government granted special recognition to traditional leaders nationwide. It did not recognize the 1964 Barotseland Agreement that granted the Lozi political autonomy and was signed by the United Kingdom, Northern Rhodesia, and the Barotse Royal Establishment immediately prior to the country’s independence. Some Lozi groups continued to demand official recognition of the Barotseland Agreement, while others pushed for independence.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or, except for refugees, by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration was neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care, to children, and there were no differences in birth registration policies and procedures between girls and boys. Birth registration rates remained low, at 11 percent of children under the age of five years old, UNICEF reported. Both state and nonstate institutions accepted alternative documents to access other basic services.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education for children of “school-going age,” it neither sets a specific age nor defines what is meant by “school-going age.” These omissions left children particularly vulnerable to child labor (see section 7.b.). The numbers of girls and boys in primary school were approximately equal, but only 37 percent of children who completed secondary school were girls.

Medical Care: Boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. In July the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press statement calling on the government to provide medical treatment to thousands of children suffering from lead poisoning in Kabwe. It urged the government to “take swift steps to clean up areas” in Kabwe “contaminated by residue from what was once the country’s largest lead mine.” According to the World Health Organization, more than 95 percent of children in the area had excessive blood lead levels, meaning they were exposed to serious risks and harm. In 2020 approximately 2,500 Kabwe children who were tested under a World Bank project were found to have extremely high blood lead levels and required immediate chelation therapy, the most common treatment for lead poisoning.

Child Abuse: The punishment for conviction of causing bodily harm to a child is five to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the law was generally enforced. Beyond efforts to eliminate child marriage, there were no specific initiatives to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 16 for boys and girls with parental consent and 21 without consent. There is no minimum age under customary law. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 had been married before age 18, and 5 percent before age 15. UNICEF reported child marriage was largely between peers, rather than forced. Early and forced marriages were prevalent, especially in rural areas. The government, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, and donors worked together to fight early and forced marriages. The government adopted a multisectoral approach to stop child marriage, including keeping children in school, creating reentry policies for girls who become pregnant, and strengthening the role of health centers for sexual reproductive health. These efforts were articulated by the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage (2016-2021) started in 2017. Other efforts by the government and other nonstate actors included community sensitization and withdrawing children from child marriages, supported by several traditional leaders. Some local traditional leaders nullified forced and early marriages and placed the girls removed from such marriages in school.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. The law provides penalties of up to life imprisonment for conviction of statutory rape or defilement, which the law defines as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 16. The minimum penalty for a conviction of defilement is 15 years’ imprisonment.

The law criminalizes sex trafficking of children and child pornography and provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. Demonstration of threats, force, intimidation, or other forms of coercion, however, is required to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, which is inconsistent with the definition under international law, and therefore, does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law requires prosecution of perpetrators and referral to care for survivors of sex trafficking but authorities did not enforce the law, and commercial sexual exploitation of children was common. According to UNICEF transactional sexual exploitation, which refers to engaging in sexual activity in exchange for basic needs, such food, clothes, or shelter, remained prevalent among extremely vulnerable girls.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at


There were fewer than 500 persons in the Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other government services.

The Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD) reported the government did not enforce the law; lack of accessibility in public transportation and infrastructure and information access remained a problem. ZAPD reported police and other government institutions did help prevent violence against persons with disabilities by investigating allegations of violence.

The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services oversees the government’s implementation of policies that address general and specific needs of persons with disabilities in education, health care, buildings access, and electoral participation.

A lack of consolidated and disaggregated data was a major impediment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government programming and policy. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education and correspondingly low literacy levels. While the government did not restrict persons with physical or mental disabilities from voting or otherwise participating in most civic affairs, progress in providing for their participation remained slow. Persons with disabilities also faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.

By law the government must provide reasonable accommodations for all persons with disabilities seeking education and provide that “any physical facility at any public educational institution is accessible.”

Public buildings, including schools, prisons, and hospitals, rarely had facilities to accommodate persons with disabilities. Five schools were designated for children with disabilities. Some children with physical disabilities attended mainstream schools, but long distances to school restricted others from accessing education. According to ZAPD, three types of education systems were accessible to children with disabilities: segregated education (special schools), integrated education (special units), and inclusive education. Most children with disabilities attended special schools, while the rest attended special units. There were 150 schools practicing inclusive education in selected provinces during the year. The government also developed and promoted employment recruitment strategies for persons with disabilities seeking to enter the civil service and had a university student loan program for students with disabilities.

Government inaction limited participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, including voting. According to CCMG, most polling stations were not accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, of the 965 polling stations observed, 354 were not accessible to persons with disabilities, CCMG reported. During the August 12 elections, information on voter registration and elections was accessible and the government provided ballots in braille or digitally accessible formats.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government actively discouraged discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. Most employers adopted nondiscriminatory HIV and AIDS workplace policies. Training of the public sector, including the judiciary, on the rights of persons with HIV or AIDS increased public awareness and acceptance, but societal and employment discrimination against such individuals persisted. The government continued to make progress in changing entrenched attitudes of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and penalties for conviction of engaging in “acts against the order of nature” are 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Conviction of the lesser charge of gross indecency carries a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Under the Lungu administration the government continued to reject calls to recognize and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights.

Police perpetrated violence and verbal and physical harassment against persons based on gender identity and sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ persons were at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access healthcare services, and were subjected to prolonged detentions. Many politicians, media figures, and religious leaders expressed opposition to basic protections and human rights for LGBTQI+ persons and same-sex marriage.

According to LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, police routinely requested bribes from LGBTQI+ individuals after arresting them. Bribes ranged from 500 to 15,000 kwacha ($30 to $900). Societal violence against LGBTQI+ persons continued, as did discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported frequent harassment of LGBTQI+ persons and their families, including threats via text message and email, vandalism, stalking, and outright violence. For example, an LGBTQI+ group reported that in March a 17-year-old intersex individual who applied for a job that required a female was made to undress in front of a hiring official to confirm their gender. The group alleged that the individual was not offered the job as a result of discrimination.

Freedom of expression or peaceful assembly on LGBTQI+ matters remained nonexistent.

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