Last Updated 24 October 2023

The Republic of Zambia, a landlocked state in south central Africa has a population of 19.6 million people, as of the 2022 Census.1 According to 2010 census data,2Although the 2022 census did ask about religious affiliation, available reports do not provide such data. more than 90% of the population is Christian – the majority of whom are Protestant – other religious groups together accounting for 2.7% of the population include Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Baha’is. 1.8% of the population are non-religious.

Zambia has a reputation for political stability and a relatively efficient, transparent government (marred only by President Frederick 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.3 There are constitutional provisions to protect freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression and assembly. However, there have been concerns about the government’s commitment to these principles in recent years.

In September 2021, newly elected President Hakainde Hichilema abolished the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, placing its functions under the Office of the Vice President. The Ministry had been responsible for strengthening the identity of the country as a Christian nation, developing self-regulatory frameworks for church and religious umbrella groups, promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue, preserving religious heritage sites, and coordinating public religious celebrations as well as ensuring Christian values were reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business.

Following his election, President Hichilema attended a national prayer service held to celebrate the “peaceful, free and fair” elections. During the service, Hichilema reportedly said that the country would remain a Christian nation in words and in deeds.4

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 are 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 religious instruction in all schools from grades one through nine. Students may request education in their religion and may opt out of religious instruction only if the school is not able to accommodate their request. Religious education after grade nine is optional and is not offered at all schools. The religious curriculum focuses on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs.”6

The Constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities.

The use of children in the most dangerous forms of labor, such as mining and agriculture, is a problem in Zambia despite laws prohibiting it.7

Family, community and society

Family, community and society are integral to Zambian culture and social norms, with religion and the Church playing a significant role in shaping values. While progressive values that contradict orthodox Christian teachings on family and relationships may face opposition, the concept of Ubuntu – meaning “I am because we are” – underscores the importance of community and solidarity in Zambian society.

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

LGBTI+ rights

A legacy of British colonization, the Penal Code8 criminalizes acts of ‘carnal knowledge of against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’ under Articles 155, 156, and 158. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Acts committed by both men and women are criminalized under the law.

According to the Human Dignity Trust,

“There is substantial evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being frequently subject to arrest. […] There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including assault, harassment, extortion, and the denial of basic rights and services.”9

From September 2022, a series of government officials and public figures spoke out against LGBTI+ rights, calling for a crackdown on such so-called “immoral” behavior.10; In September 2022, President Hichilema reiterated his opposition to LGBTI+ rights reportedly citing the nation’s deep-seated conservative Christian values as the source of his opposition.11 In November 2022, the archbishop of Lusaka, Archbishop Alick Banda, stated that LGBTI+ people are contrary to Zambian culture and Christian values.12; The statement was later supported by the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops.13

On 7 March 2023, police reportedly arrested four women’s rights activists at a rally, alleging they had used the rally to promote LGBTI+ rights.14

Witchcraft-related persecution

Under the Witchcraft Act (1914),15 naming or accusing a person of being a witch or wizard is a criminal offense punishable either by fine or imprisonment of up to one year, while those who profess knowledge of witchcraft may face up to two years’ imprisonment. The law has an exception for those who report to police any person alleged to be professing knowledge of, or practicing, witchcraft.

Moreover, according to the US State Department’s report on religious freedom in Zambia, attacks and killings of individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft continue to take place across the country. The victims tend to be elderly people.16

According to Amnesty International, individuals with albinism face violent attacks and mutilation due to superstitious misconceptions about the condition.17


According to the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, despite the many barriers to access safe abortions, Zambia has among the most liberal abortion policies in Sub-Saharan Africa.18

According to Ipas,

“Although abortion is legal in Zambia, the barriers to accessing safe abortion care are formidable. Doctors are in short supply, and there is a strong and persistent social stigma surrounding abortion. Very few women know they have the right to a safe, legal abortion or know where to seek safe abortion services; as a result, unsafe abortion is a major problem in Zambia.”19

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press, but the government has often restricted these rights in practice. The government has the authority to appoint the management boards of the state-owned Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). The government can also grant or revoke licenses of broadcasters.

In the run-up to the 2021 elections, the authorities sought to crack down on dissenting voices – be they political opponents or journalists – utilizing a range of laws from criminal defamation to sedition legislation. The authorities also brutally repressed pre-election protests – using live ammunition resulting in the death of at least one participant.20

The suppression of opposition voices has continued following the 2021 change in government, with several media outlets and journalists facing harassment and threats of violence.21;;

‘Blasphemy’ law

Article 8 of the Defamation Act 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”. Article 196 of the Penal Code effectively acts as a blasphemous libel provision, as it suggests that courts may prohibit “the publication of anything said or shown before it, on the ground that it is seditious, immoral, or blasphemous”;

Chapter XIV of the Penal Code pertains to “offences relating to religion”. Article 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.”


2 Although the 2022 census did ask about religious affiliation, available reports do not provide such data.
4, 6, 16
17, 20

Support our work

Donate Button with Credit Cards
whois: Andy White WordPress Theme Developer London