The Republic of Zambia, a landlocked state in south central Africa has a population of 13.8 million people. Zambia has a reputation for political stability and a relatively efficient, transparent government (marred by President Chiluba’s extensive corrupt tenure). It is Africa’s biggest copper producer and subject to the volatility of the mineral’s price. It has strong links with China.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Zambia is officially a Christian state, according to the 1996 constitution. There are constitutional provisions to protect freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression and assembly. The government’s commitment to these general principles may not be as firm as the constitution suggests.

President Edgar Lungu called for “divine intervention” to save the country’s currency, in 2015.

Education and children’s rights

The majority of Zambian pupils attend government schools, which are nominally free for Grades 1-7, although parents may have to pay ‘contributions’ or buy uniforms from the school. With the exception of a few top private schools, Zambian schools are chronically under-resourced and educational standards extremely low.

The current constitution declares under article 19 (2) that religious instruction cannot be compulsory; based on the wording a guardian may have to opt a child into religious instruction, though there is no stated ability for a child to opt themselves out in line with their developing capacities:

“Except with his own consent, or, if he is a minor, the consent of his guardian, no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own.”

However, despite the constitutional provision, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom Report for Zambia, “the government requires Christian instruction in public schools. Religious education in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions is mandatory for all students through grade seven. From grade eight to grade twelve, religious education is offered as an optional subject in government-run schools. Islamic or other forms of religious education are not available in public schools but are offered in some private schools.”

The use of children in the most dangerous forms of labour, such as mining and agriculture, is a problem in Zambia.

Family, community and society

According to the 2000 census, 87 percent of the population is Christian, 1 percent is Muslim or Hindu, and 7 percent adhere to other belief systems, including indigenous religions. Many people practice a mix of Christianity and traditional beliefs. 5% of the population may be assumed to have no religious faith. There are no known atheist or humanist groups in Zambia.

Those promoting progressive values (or any other-than-orthodox Christian teaching on family and relationship issues) can find themselves the victim of both government and churches strong responses.

In February 2014, a Lusaka court acquitted human rights activist Paul Kasonkomona. He had been charged in April 2013 with “soliciting for immoral purposes” after he urged the government to recognize the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people as part of a comprehensive fight against HIV/AIDS during a television debate. The court ruled that the state had failed to prove its case. The government indicated its intention to appeal against the ruling.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press, but as of 2013, the government often restricted these rights in practice. Although the late President Sata had pledged to free the public media from government control, these outlets have continued to make pro-government reports in general, and journalists have censored themselves. All the major print and broadcast outlets now favour the ruling party. The government has the authority to appoint the management boards of ZNBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), grants and revokes licenses of broadcasters. Sata had revoked the nationwide licenses of the privately owned Radio Phoenix and Q-FM because they had aired opposition statements.

In July 2015, the decision by President Edgar Lungu to commute the sentences of 332 prisoners awaiting death by hanging to life imprisonment was welcomed by Amnesty International and others, as “a laudable first step….to abolishing the death penalty completely”.

‘Blasphemy’ law

The Defamation Act under article 8 states – while considering privileged material for use in a court of law – that: “nothing in this section shall authorise the publication of any blasphemous or indecent matter”. The Penal Code under article 196 suggests that courts may prohibit “the publication of anything said or shown before it, on the ground that it is seditious, immoral, or blasphemous”.<>

Moreover, the Penal Code privileges religion with regard to trespass at specifically religious places under article 130.

And under 131 criminalizes “wounding religious feelings” in very broad terms:

“Any person who, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word, or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or makes any gesture in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

Proposal to restrict “anti-Christian” views is shelved

A draft new constitution circulated in 2013 singled out “anti-Christian”, excluding them from protection by the general principles of free expression. The new constitution was not enacted, due to the then President Sata’s death. These draft proposals  appear to have been motivated by differences between churches (and Sata’s clear preference for the Roman Catholic church), differences which he thought it appropriate that the state might resolve.

President Sata was succeeded by a prominent minister in Sata’s government, Edgar Lungu. There was no indication that there would be any renewed constitutional discussion about limiting free expression of “anti-Christian” views.