SRHR investment key in curbing early marriages

HAVING been ensnared in a vicious circle of poverty from birth, thirteenyear old Zainabu’s (not her real name) dreams were shattered.

And, as time went on, her life became bleaker by the day to such an extent that, to her, there was no any other way of entangling herself from the jaws of this social anomaly except to sacrifice everything and get married at a tender age.

As if that was not enough, her family on the other hand believed that the only solution to prevent the girl from bringing home children without fathers was to marry her off at any cost, despite the sad reality that she was still a minor.

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch for many cultures in Tanzania, girls are generally considered ready for marriage when they reach puberty and marriage is viewed to protect them from pre-marital sex and pregnancy that undermine family honour and may decrease the amount of dowry a family may receive.

Poverty had become part and parcel of Zainabu’s family to an extent that her mother could not take care of all the children, so to ease the burden, she had to distribute some of her children to relatives for better care.

And, Zainabu was taken to live with her grandmother in Nang’ole and all seemed well before she got ill and had to return to her mother at Mchinga II Village of Mchinga Ward in Lindi Rural District, where she currently lives.

At the time she returned to Lindi, Zainabu was in Standard Two, but due to the biting poverty at home, the mother could not afford to enrol her back to school, for her to continue with her education.

At that very tender age, she was taken to Lindi to work as a maid for some years, before she was transferred to Dar es Salaam to go and live with her aunty.

When she arrived in Dar es Salaam, the cousin who is the aunt’s eldest daughter had intentions to enrol her back to school, but the aunt kept insisting that it was a waste of money.

“I did not want to feel like a burden to them, so I refused to take up the offer and instead assisted my aunt with home chores and to run her business of selling bites,” said Zainabu.

Her mother passed away a few years ago and she had to go back to Lindi for the funeral. After the funeral, Zainabu remained in the village to attend to her sick sister along with the other siblings.

Because of her age, the girl was supposed to be in school but due to earlier circumstances she was not. Staying idle acted as a catalyst for her to start flirting with boys in the village.

According to Zainabu’s sister (who is sick), Pili Mohamed, she could return home very late and they did not know of her whereabouts.

Such habits provoked the grandfather, who lives not very far away from their house, to marry her off to a man who is in his early twenties. Because she is still under the age of 18, the marriage would have been prevented but the girl insisted that she wanted in.

Much as members of the Prevention and Reduction of Gender Based Violence (PRGBV) Committee which is coordinated by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) in the ward tried to convince her, she did not want to take the advice.

Mchinga Ward is one among 10 districts in the country where TAMWA is implementing the PRGBV programme through the support of the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) for five years.

The programme is currently in its second year of implementation in the country. The presence of the committee in Mchinga Ward has to a large extent raised awareness on gender-based violence cases in the district which has encouraging reportage. Although issues pertaining to GBV are now becoming clear in most parts of the country, people have refused to deify all odds-on matters related to their socio-cultural norms.

Despite near-universal commitments to end child marriages, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) states that 21 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, an average of tens of thousands of girls every single day. Five per cent of girls are married before the age of 15.

The Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey 2015-2016 reveals that 36 per cent of women aged between 25-49 years marry before their 18th birthday, and 59 per cent marry before their 20th birthday.

For men of the same age, the percentages are five per cent and 15 per cent, respectively. African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriages globally and the region has the world’s highest prevalence of adolescent pregnancies, according to reports

.In all, 40 per cent of girls marry before the age of 18 in Africa and they have more children on average than those who delay marriage. Whereas the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 23 per cent of girls are married before their 18th birthday in Kenya. According to a World Bank (WB) published last year, ending child marriages could generate 3 billion US dollars per year for Uganda by 2030.

On the other hand, the WB report states that one in three girls still marry before the age of 18 in Uganda, whether through formal or informal unions.

According to the Law of the Child of 2009, a child is any person below the age of 18 years regardless of their sex.

Even though Tanzania introduced tougher punishment of up to 30 years in prison for men who marry schoolgirls or impregnate them, the law is silent for those girls who are not in school.

Lindi District Council Social Welfare Officer, Goodluck Hatibu disclosed that such has prompted a culture of silence existing around reporting cases related to child marriages and early pregnancies among communities.

During the previous years, he said the reportage was huge as compared to the current situation because of the imposed measures to be taken on parents of those children.

Because the head teachers of these schools where these children go to are part of the communities, they are reluctant to report the pregnancies to the authorities for fears of being isolated.

A meeting held in October, last year by TAMWA involving the PRGBV committee members from Mchinga Ward concluded that currently, in the three villages, they have not recorded any case of child marriage because they have stopped marrying their children off because of government directives.

Mchinga I Village Leader, Hasani Subeti observed in the meeting that any wedding that was about to occur in his village is usually reported to his office prior the official date.

Subeti pointed out that the move was to help the village authority to validate on whether the couple which is marrying does not involve children below the age of 18 years.

Even though the residents of Mchinga Ward claimed to do away with marriages involving children below the age of 18 years in their villages, on the contrary, Zainabu’s case proves otherwise.

The Village Leader of Mchinga II Manzi Yusuf was notified by the writer of this article before the marriage occurred in October, last year, but since it pushed through it means nothing was done to prevent it.

Zainabu is currently married and lives with the husband not very far from their family home in Mchinga II where her other siblings claim homage.

Mchinga Ward Community Development Officer, Ms Sharifa Tapalu admitted that child marriages still exist in their zone although the incidences are rarely reported.

Ms Sharifa revealed that when a girl completes Standard Seven and it happens she has not been selected to join secondary education, it means the child would be staying at home.

They believe that once she stays at home, it was most likely the girl would be impregnated.

“We came to discover this during an exercise to register birth and deaths in the Ward… while providing details of their children, it proved that some of the women married and had their kids before the age of 18 years,” said Ms Tapalu.

She also disclosed the main reason for early marriages to include the reluctance of most girls in the ward to engage into some income generating activities, therefore, they are always idle doing nothing constructive.

According to her, the girls believe that marriage is a way of getting financial security and a form of respect. These girls do not think that engaging themselves in constructive things such as business can overcome such economic dependency.

Like teachers in the ward, members of the PRGBV committee on some occasions fear to report acts of violence occurring in their areas for dreading being isolated by the communities in which they live.

Mwanaisha Ally a Paralegal from Mchinga II was among the first people to learn of Zainabu’s marriage.

Along with her counterpart Mohamedi Ausi they tried to find solutions to prevent the girl from getting married, but did not receive any support from either the parties or the village authority there.

The Paralegal observed that when she went to seek redress of the issue, some family members opposed her. She was told that if Zainabu’s marriage does not push through, all the blame will be directed to her and was going to be responsible.

However, Zainabu’s sisters walked on the same page as Mwanaisha but again due to the difficult situation in their family, they did not have a say.

A report by Human Rights Watch indicates that by permitting child marriages, the government becomes responsible for the serious harms suffered by girls and women, thus violating many human rights recognised under international law.

It further highlights that girls married as children are usually unable to continue with their schooling and consequently have limited wage-earning prospects due to lack of education.

Girls may experience domestic violence and marital rape and receive little or no support during their marriages or when they leave.

However, girls are forced into adulthood before they are physically and emotionally mature and they struggle with the physical and emotional health effects of becoming pregnant too young.

These harmful effects take the heaviest toll on the youngest brides. Since the Law of Marriage of 1971 allows for boys to marry at 18 and girls to marry at 14, with parental consent.

In July 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and stated that sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act were unconstitutional after it was petitioned by girls’ rights advocate Rebeca Gyumi.

Months later, the Attorney General appealed against the July 2016 ruling by the High Court raising the marriage age for girls from 15 to 18.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) is on the view that for child marriage to end in the country, there is need to increase investments in institutions that protect girls and women, as well as increased investment in their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

However, an increase in the minimum marriage age to 18 and for making secondary education compulsory for all is vital.

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