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When societies sweep child marriages under carpet

CHILD marriages continue to hog the limelight in country, putting a huge dent on the educational dreams of many girls, who are forced out of schools, while at the same time trapping them in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Though various stakeholders have been fighting tooth and nail to put an end to this social rot, societies are now conducting the hideous unions in secrecy.

Thus, experts and stakeholders are calling for more resources to be invested in educating the public, especially the rural population, as the nation implements the UN Sustainable Development Goal number five, which requires the country to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Child marriages pose serious human rights violations and as per rights experts, they affect children and women’s rights to health, education, equality and to live free from violence.

Apart from being outlawed by the country regulations, such as the Law of the Child Act Number 21 of 2009, the government has gone further to ensure that child rights are protected.

For example, last year, it launched the National Action Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, which analysed the role of each stakeholder in the country in preventing and combating gender-based violence (GBV).

The government also established gender and children’s desks in police stations where GVB survivors and victims of child abuse can report.

And, it also directed for establishment of child protection and security desks in schools, to enable students to report acts of violence and required school heads to prepare quarterly reports on how many students are being impregnated or married off in their respective schools.

Several districts in the country including Kisarawe and Gairo are implementing the child protection programme which involves the formation of child protection and security committees involving members from the district to village levels, to ensure that the rights of children are fully protected through monitoring and reporting of acts of violence.

Also, various campaigns have been carried out in the country by the government in collaboration with other stakeholders, to educate community members about the adverse effects of child marriages.

To support government efforts to end child marriages and support child brides in August 2014, the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children (MCGDC) in collaboration with UNFPA Tanzania, Graça Machel Trust (GMT), Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF), Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), Mara regional authorities and Mara Region CSOs among others launched a national campaign to end child marriages.

The campaign dubbed, “Child Marriage-Free Zone” is aimed at strengthening national dynamics for ending child marriages and ensuring realization of rights of girls and women through interventions aimed at both the rights holders, i.e. the girls themselves and the duty bearers in Mara and nationally.

However, a survey conducted by the ‘Sunday News’ in Kisarawe District established that despite all those measures, some parents/ guardians are marrying off their daughters in secrecy for fear of being dragged by legal organs.

Chanzige Secondary School Student, Zainabu Shabani (17) said child marriages in her community were driven by poverty, especially when parents or guardians fail to provide basic needs for their children, apart from tradition and customs which are also blamed for fuelling the practice.

Although students are provided with knowledge on impacts of early marriages in schools, some parents force their daughters to get married so that they can get money and shift the burden of taking care of their child to the husband.

Another student at the school, Elia Ngowi (17), said child marriages are prevalent in his community and are driven by traditional norms and poverty. He said that nowadays marriages are being done behind closed doors as parents fear to be held accountable.

“Sometimes after a girl is married, they leave the village and go to live in another area so that it is not easy for people to recognise the couple. A teacher at Chanzige Secondary School, Ms Hadija Luhwavi, who is responsible for counselling students said that child marriages is a problem in her district, but it is very difficult to find out whether a girl has been married off or not.

She said that it was easier to identify students who have been impregnated through medical diagnosis, but not those who have been married off by their parents. District Medical Officer (DMO), Dr Jonathan Budenu said child marriages are still a challenge in various communities in the country.

The DMO said there was need to invest much in public education especially in rural areas in order to address the problem. He said that the perception that a young girl is part of the society’s change has remained only to the educated group, but most people in rural areas regard them as assets or source of income.

Kisarawe District Social Welfare Officer, Ms Mwandili Rangi said that more efforts need to be directed towards changing the society’s mind set on child marriages.

“Most people in the rural areas are still reluctant to abandon their customs and traditions, which undermine the rights of a girl child such as early marriages,” she said.

She admitted that child marriages in her district were still a challenge and done in secrecy. Ms Rangi noted that people have opted for the method after the district launched a programme towards protecting children.

“There are child protection teams which have been formed from the district, ward and to village levels and after such a move, parents are now scared to marry off their girl children for fear of being arrested thus they do it in secret,” he said.

Ms Rangi said parents tend to force their pregnant children to drop out from school and marry them off to men who would have impregnated them for fear of being held accountable.

Kisarawe District Executive Director - Mussa Gama said parents and guardians are to blame for fuelling child marriages because they marry off their young daughters in order to get money or cows.

He said that in his community parents from the both sides enter into an agreement to allow their children to marry each other and the situation has caused difficulties when cases are brought to court due to lack of evidence.

Mr Gama also said girls are not willing to disclose men who would have impregnated them and the parents seem not to be troubled.

He, however, noted that President John Magufuli’s ban on teen mothers to return to school has also helped to some extent in reducing early marriages.

Thec, in collaboration with various sectors, has taken various initiatives to end child marriages such as educating the public about the effects of the practice and also support schoolgirls who are living far from school by providing them bicycles.

As council, we are focusing much on extending education opportunities to change the mindset of the children.

He detailed that two years back, the council had only one high school but it has made efforts and increased another school to extend education opportunities for students to proceed to high school, thus reduce the chances of young girls from getting married at a tender age.

Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world.

On average, almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthdays, according to the country’s 2010 demographic and health survey.

Figures from the 2016 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) show that 36 per cent of girls between 20 and 24 years old were married before the age of 18.

Child marriage is most common in rural areas, but it also occurs in towns and cities and there are large differences across regions .

According to the TDHS from 2010, Shinyanga, Tabora, Mara and Dodoma have high prevalence rates of child marriage with 59 pc, 58 pc, 55pc and 51pc respectively whereas Iringa and Dar es Salaam had the lowest prevalence rates at 8pc and 17 pc.

Data collected for the 2016 TDHS shows a 5pc increase in child marriage in the 15-19 age brackets since the previous survey in 2010.

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Author: LYDIA SHEKIGHENDA

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