Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. On August 12, the country held elections for president, national assembly seats, and local government. The United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, won the election by a wide margin. Incumbent president and Patriotic Front candidate, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, conceded and facilitated a peaceful transition of presidential power. International and local observers deemed the election technically well-managed but cited several irregularities. The pre-election period was marred by abuse of incumbency, restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and movement, and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely free and fair.
The Zambia Police Service has primary responsibility for internal security and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security. The military consists of the Zambia Army, the Zambia Air Force, and the Zambia National Service, under the Ministry of Defense. The commanders of each respective service, however, are appointed by and report directly to the president. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the internal security forces committed numerous abuses.
President Hichilema’s victory in the August 12 election represented a significant break from years of authoritarian drift. Hichilema’s election occurred despite ruling party efforts to tilt the electoral playing field in its favor. Hichilema has announced plans to combat corruption, enshrine protections for human rights, and strengthen independent media. His administration has also voiced strong support for human rights and democratic governance at international fora.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious restrictions on free expression online and in the media and the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and the application of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the right to freedom of assembly; official corruption; the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and widespread child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses. Nevertheless, impunity before the August 12 elections remained a problem because perpetrators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. During the Lungu administration, the government applied the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who criticized the ruling party. The government also took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials for corruption, although impunity remained widespread.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, the law allows restrictions on freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts.
Freedom of Expression: During the Lungu administration the ruling Patriotic Front government was sensitive to criticism, particularly from the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of public interest. For example, in May police arrested opposition Economic and Equity Party leader Chilufya Tayali and charged him with defaming then president Lungu. Tayali had criticized Lungu of allegedly “funding” Patriotic Front partisans (known colloquially as “cadres”) to incite political violence. In December police dropped the charge against Tayali.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the then ruling party, while the other supported the party and the government. During the Lungu administration, opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively.
In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs while Lungu was in office received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent private media outlets also often received threats from the government during the Lungu administration for providing broadcast time to the opposition. Then ruling Patriotic Front party “cadres” attacked several private media houses and disrupted live programs featuring opposition political leaders. For example, on February 11, cadres armed with iron bars and slingshots attacked Liberty Community Radio Station in Mporokoso district in Northern Province and disrupted a live radio program featuring opposition Democratic Party leader and presidential candidate Harry Kalaba. On March 10, Patriotic Front cadres again allegedly attacked and teargassed Chete Radio Station in Nakonde district in Muchinga Province. This was after the station featured then opposition UPND provincial chairman for Muchinga Province Reverend Matthew Chilekwa and other officials. The Media Institute for Southern Africa Zambia Chapter described the attack as “a threat to freedom of expression and a hindrance to freedom of the press.”
Violence and Harassment: According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities during the Lungu administration. While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, reports of government officials and supporters of Lungu’s then ruling party harassing and physically disrupting the work of journalists continued during Lungu’s time in office. For example, on May 1, Patriotic Front cadres attacked and assaulted two journalists at the Patriotic Front secretariat when rival Patriotic Front cadres violently clashed during a meeting to welcome opposition National Democratic Congress leader Chishimba Kambwili back to the Patriotic Front party. The cadres attacked Francis Mwiinga Maingaila, a reporter at Zambia 24, a privately owned news website, and Nancy Malwele, a reporter at the independent New Vision newspaper. On June 24, the cadres set ablaze the Kalungwishi FM radio station in Chiengi district in Luapula Province. Although the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) condemned these attacks, police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate cases of assaults against journalists and radio stations, and some media houses were impeded from broadcasting or threatened with closure for unfavorable reporting or insufficient coverage of then president Lungu.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Lungu administration was sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported harassment and arrests related to information disseminated on social media, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship.
During the Lungu administration authorities penalized media that criticized the government by withholding licenses and government advertising funds. In April 2020 the government, through the IBA, closed Prime TV, a leading independent media company that broadcast criticism of the government and the then ruling party, ostensibly for failing to apply for renewal of its operating license on time. The closure followed the television station’s refusal to broadcast government COVID-19 announcements at no charge because station management stated the government was in arrears in payments to the station. On August 17, following the Patriotic Front’s loss of the August 12 elections, the IBA restored Prime TV’s license, allowing it to resume operations.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Lungu administration and individual public figures used laws against libel and slander against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. During the Lungu administration, the government also often used sedition laws against its critics. For example, on April 26, Zambia’s then ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the African Union, Emmanuel Mwamba, accused University of Zambia (UNZA) modern history professor Sishuwa of sedition. This was in response to Sishuwa’s article, “This is Why Zambia May Burn After the August Election,” in which he discussed factors that could lead to potential unrest in the country after the August 12 elections. In a Facebook post, Mwamba called Sishuwa’s article an attempt to “scandalize Zambia, harm its reputation, and impose a false and alarming international narrative” and accused him of “being a hired gun.” In response, Sishuwa sued Mwamba for defamation. Subsequently, Mwamba wrote a letter to then inspector general of police Kakoma Kanganja, which appeared to instruct him to charge Sishuwa for inciting violence. Other senior government officials reiterated threats against Sishuwa.
On April 19, the Lusaka Magistrates Court sentenced Fred Manya to three years in prison for allegedly defaming president Lungu during a phone-in program. Another person was sentenced to one year in prison for a similar offense.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and association; however, during the Lungu administration the government restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted opposition and civil society political meetings, rallies, and other activities.
There were reports of police partiality in the application of the law, impunity for violent actions, and excessive use of force by the police. During the Lungu administration police frequently required opposition party or civil society organizations critical of the government to hold meetings at unfavorable locations and times. The law requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, disregarded this ruling during the Lungu administration. Police stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings, and imposed overly broad and unjustifiably long restrictions on such meetings, citing COVID-19 regulations issued by the Ministry of Health. According to the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), there were 28 instances of campaign space limitation, targeting mostly then UPND supporters.
In May police arrested and detained members of the Resident Doctors Association of Zambia for staging a peaceful assembly to air grievances about the government’s nonpayment of their salary arrears and allowances, among other claims. Police Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja warned the doctors they would be arrested if they continued with their assembly or participated in any virtual meetings organized by Resident Doctors Association president Dr. Brian Sampa. On June 7, the government terminated Sampa’s employment contract and suspended his medical license. Police later arrested and charged him with “inciting persons employed to provide essential services.” On September 7, the Lusaka High Court ordered the Health Professional Council of Zambia to restore Sampa’s license and awarded him damages amounting to 101,000 kwacha ($5,560) for loss of income and legal costs, following successful litigation by Chapter One Foundation, which represented Sampa.
Prior to the August 12 elections, the Patriotic Front government regularly prevented opposition presidential candidates from campaigning, while allowing the then ruling party’s presidential candidate and incumbent president and other Patriotic Front officials to campaign freely.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it retained some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the law requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent and lengthy and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, government implementation of the law and NGO policy negatively affected the operations of civil society organizations because it gave authorities the power to monitor and restrict their legitimate activities.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The former Patriotic Front government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections. For example, on July 30, police detained then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema at a Chipata airport runway for two hours to prevent him from meeting his supporters to canvass for votes. On August 3, police further blocked him from entering the Mpika, Isoka, Nakonde, and Mbala districts where he was scheduled to meet his supporters.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The law gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants having asylum status in other countries; however, there were no reported cases of asylum denial to applicants having asylum status in other countries or of refugee deportation.
Freedom of Movement: The established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. According to the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, there were 71,728 refugees and 4,932 asylum seekers living in settlements as of August 31. There were also 24,696 former Angolan and Rwandan refugees. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons may stay legally in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements may obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers unfamiliar with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention. In May 2020 the government ordered entry and exit restrictions at refugee settlements as a COVID-19 mitigation measure.
Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they may engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no qualified and available citizen to perform the job.
Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services including education and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but it required a student permit and the payment of school fees.
Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees. In February the government issued 60 residence permits to former Rwandan refugees, the state-run Times of Zambia reported. UNHCR reported that in recent years the government issued residence permits to refugees with Angolan and Rwandan passports and offered them land as part of a local integration program. The inability to secure passports and the increase in the cost of residency permits during the year limited former refugees’ ability to participate in local integration efforts.
Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons found in the territory. The Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that as of August 31, 4,932 asylum seekers awaited status determination.
g. Stateless Persons
According to UNHCR, the country does not maintain statistical information regarding stateless persons. In 2019 authorities reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents were integrated into local rural communities.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were held on August 12. The election, which marked the country’s third peaceful transition of power since the reintroduction of multiparty politics, consisted of four separate ballots for president, members of parliament, mayors, and local councilors. The opposition United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, won a landslide victory with 59 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, incumbent president and Patriotic Front candidate, Edgar Lungu, received 38.7 percent, and 14 other candidates received a combined 2.3 percent of the vote. The presidential election was conducted under a majoritarian electoral system that requires a candidate to receive more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a second-round runoff.
There were reports the electoral process was characterized by abuses and irregularities. These included burdensome national voter registration time limitations and lack of transparency in procedures (including access by observers), opaque and inconsistent application of the Electoral Code of Conduct, and late changes to accreditation procedures (including new requirements and without prior consultation), which election experts and civil society observers assessed as undue burdens that did not meet international standards of electoral process management. On May 10, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced a new voter roll of 7,023,499 voters, replacing the existing one. Chapter One Foundation alleged that ECZ’s decision to replace the existing register disenfranchised many voters and led to a decline in the number of registered voters in the opposition stronghold Southern, North-Western, and Western Provinces. Despite calls by the public for an independent audit of the new register, ECZ insisted on conducting a physical inspection.
Election observers and monitors reported that the election results management process complied with transparency requirements at the polling stations and the election was relatively peaceful. They also cited, however, widespread reports of pre-election violence, political interference, abuse of incumbency, unbalanced public media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling Patriotic Front party, which raised questions about the fairness and credibility of the electoral process. For example, on August 1, then president Lungu deployed army troops on the streets across the country in reaction to increased political violence. The president reinforced the troops on election day in UPND stronghold areas of Western, North-Western, and Southern Provinces, following the killing of Patriotic Front’s North-Western Province chairman Jackson Kungo and another person, allegedly by UPND cadres. Opposition leaders described these actions as an “intimidation tactic.” In an August 14 press statement, then president Lungu raised more concerns when he declared the elections “not free and fair.” Lungu later conceded and congratulated the winning candidate on August 16 and committed to a peaceful transfer of power, which culminated in Hakainde Hichilema’s inauguration on August 24.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1991, political parties largely operated without restriction or outside interference, and individuals could independently run for office. In recent years, however, the government under the Lungu administration pursued activities that undermined opposition parties, including targeted arrests of opposition party leaders and members, denial of party registration, and general harassment. Prior to the August 12 elections, media reported that the then ruling party continued to enjoy the use of government resources for campaign purposes and at times used police to harass opposition parties. During campaigns the former ruling government distributed money as a “church empowerment fund” to religious organizations. Members of the then ruling party also openly distributed money to members of the public. Critics described such actions as tantamount to “corruption” and “vote buying.”
The CCMG reported campaign statistics showed a limitation of campaign space for opposition parties, which created an uneven playing field. On May 26, then president Lungu directed the police to prevent members of political parties from holding public rallies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Police prevented or interrupted opposition party meetings and blocked opposition leaders from meeting supporters without citing any reasons. For example, on July 25, authorities at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport prevented then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema from departing Lusaka after boarding a private aircraft despite having been previously granted flight clearance. Similarly, on July 29, police officers detained Hichilema at Chipata Airport and denied him entry into the district on the grounds that he would be conducting political campaigns, according to media reports. Police blocked the road leading to the airport and fired teargas at his supporters. On January 31, ECZ announced that prisoners would be allowed to vote in the upcoming general elections based on the Constitutional Court’s 2017 ruling that the electoral law preventing convicted prisoners from voting was unconstitutional. The government complied with the ruling and eligible prisoners voted in the August 12 election.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: There are no laws preventing women or members of minority groups from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and women and minorities did so. Nevertheless, observers reported that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, the constitutional requirement of a high school education to qualify as a candidate for election to public office had the effect of disqualifying many female candidates, because they often were unable to complete secondary school due to traditional or cultural factors such as early marriage.
As of September, 25 of 166 members of parliament were women. On September 3, members of parliament elected Nelly Mutti as the first female speaker of the National Assembly. The country’s new vice president was also a woman. Overall, however, few women occupied public decision-making positions. According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, selective implementation of policies and law undermined the full participation of women in political life.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption, and the government attempted to enforce the law but did so inconsistently. Officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Although the government collaborated with the international community and civil society organizations to improve capacity to investigate and prevent corruption, anticorruption NGOs observed that, the enforcement rate was low among senior government officials and in the civil service.
According to Transparency International Zambia, the conviction rate for those prosecuted for corruption was 10 to 20 percent. The Patriotic Front government did not effectively or consistently apply laws against corrupt officials; it selectively applied anticorruption law to target opposition leaders or officials who ran afoul of it. Transparency International Zambia further reported that, during the Patriotic Front administration, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: Media reported numerous allegations of government corruption, particularly in public procurement. For example, the Ministry of Health’s procurement of 17 million dollars’ worth of defective and unsafe medical supplies in 2020 and its alleged misapplication of COVID-19 donations made corruption a key electoral issue during the national elections. Subsequently, former Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, former Ministry of Health permanent secretary Kakulubelwa Mulalelo, and others were arrested in connection with the scandal. In July the Lusaka Magistrates Court acquitted Chilufya, Mulalelo, and others of all charges relating to these allegations.
In June 2020 the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested Chilufya, while serving as minister of health, and charged him with four counts of possession of criminally obtained property. The ACC offered no further evidence against him and dropped the charges.
On June 24, the Lusaka Magistrates Court convicted former minister of community development and social services, Emerine Kabanshi, of corruption-related charges and sentenced her to two years of imprisonment. Kabanshi appealed to the High Court and her appeal case remained pending at the year’s end. Kabanshi was also arrested for abuse of authority of office by the ACC in 2019.
On December 7, former international minister Joseph Malanji was arrested by the government for possessing property suspected to be proceeds of crime; he remained in police detention at year’s end.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is an independent body established by the constitution to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The HRC monitored human rights conditions, interceded on behalf of persons whose rights it believed the government denied, and spoke on behalf of detainees and prisoners.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were fewer than 500 persons in the Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
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.