AWARENESS on the danger of early marriages and teenage pregnancies needs to go hand in hand with promoting gender equality and women empowerment if the situation has to change for the better.
Early marriages and teenage pregnancies have not only been denying girls of their right to education, but also cut short their dreams and finally become victims of the situation.
In addressing the matter, the communities in Chamwino District have come up with an awareness programme through the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), which has trained paralegals alongside to address the problem.
During a two-day training workshop organized by TAMWA under the Freedom House project, it was clear that awareness on the laws and regulations was very important, to re-empower girls to make informed decision.
TAMWA Crisis Resolving Centre Coordinator, Ms Gladness Munuo was of the views that cultural believes as well as some sections of the laws should be changed so that girls can exercise their basic rights.
“For a positive action, the society, girls and parents need a change of mindset on how they treat girls and thus a need to build society which believes and advocates for women and children right” said Ms Munuo.
But to attain the goals the society has to change their mindset towards gender equality issues and must consider the need to empower women both information wise and economically.
As for the government, it needs to work with all key stakeholders to see how best the laws and regulations address gender rights issues.
On the basis, TAMWA has decided to engage paralegals in Chamwino District and train them on to what to do on the current legal and institutional frameworks.
The paralegals have of late provided great assistance in dealing with gender based violence in the respective areas, especially on imparting needed legal knowledge as best partners in the society, and bridging the gaps where they have occurred.
Ms Munuo during her overview presentation on the current laws and policies that have impacts on the gender based violence (GBV), identified the existing gaps as well as suggested areas for further reforms, and it was clear that some amendments need to be considered to achieve the needed goals.
She said TAMWA under the Freedom House Project has embarked on a campaign to train paralegals and other stakeholders on laws and regulations as well as norms that hinder gender equality, as well lagging behind implementation and enforcement of women’s and children’s rights.
However, Ms Munuo said despite notable legal reforms, the social and legal protections of vulnerable groups (women, children and others) seem to remain fragile.
This situation is partly attributed by presence of bad laws, some of which are weak and give the mechanisms for the vulnerable groups to suffer. She cited them as Law Marriage Act, Cap. 29, which still sanctions marriage of girls below 18 years contrary to a number of international human rights instruments on the rights of women.
Law of the Child Act, 2009 that does not state the legal age of marriage or prohibit child marriages and betrothals, where Chamwino District Community Development Officer, Ms Sharifa Nabalang’anya, said it was through awareness and women empowerment that the women and children rights issues could be addressed.
She said in her district, they are about to launch a women forum which among others would educate them on a number of issues on their rights and making informed decisions.
Moreover, she was of suggestion that, the government can impose heavy penalty on a number of gender based violence and women rights, but if the society was not ready to change, it would be useless.
“The community knows that all age School going girls must be in class, but in Chamwino, the very same parents are forcing them to marry and in turn perform poorly, and at the end of the day they marry them for heavy dowries,” she lamented.
In such situation, she said, women and girls must know their rights and entitlement and be educated on what await them on early marriages and child pregnancies, while women at large needs to know the laws and acts that are in their favour.
“Girls who are married off at a young age are being denied the freedom to make informed decisions later in life, and their dreams shuttered, the community needs to change” she said.
While the government’s move focuses on protecting school girls from “predators”, women’s rights campaigners said greater recognition of the importance of girls’ education was crucial in the battle against child pregnancies and teen marriages.
“I think we ought to focus on imparting life skills to girls in school, so that they can be assertive to say no,” said Debora Msanga from a paralegal association in Chamwino.
Michael Msuya a Chamwino Paralegal association board member said much as there are loopholes in some acts, but the community itself must change its mindset as far as women and children rights are concerned.
“You find yourself at crossroads in many cases, whereas , a girl is impregnated and as a paralegal, you take an initiative to report the matter to the legal organs, , but surprisingly, when the case is filed , the parents of the two families choose to meet and settle the matter at family level, while the girl’s dream has been shuttered” said Mr Msuya.
The community should change the common trend within the district where parents of the two families choose to settle the matter out of court, and agree on unofficial penalty one should pay, a trend which he said fuels the situation.
Majority of participants called for awareness and education on the rights of the child as well effects of early marriage and child pregnancies amongst girls for them to make informed decisions.
Many of them fall on the track, as they do not have the needed skills and information when mingling together with the outdated laws and traditions which set traps for them.
Early marriage and teen pregnancies not only deprive the girls off education and opportunities, but increases the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready.
Child brides are often disempowered and at greater risk of domestic and sexual violence and HIV since at that tender age, they find themselves at crossroads with very little knowledge on what should be done.
Despite the heavy penalty of up to30 years in prison for men who marry schoolgirls or who impregnate them, the society has unofficial means to handle the cases traditionally, should also be phased off.
However, the government is working around the clock to end the menace, but alone without the community and stakeholders involvements ,the authority’s initiatives to impose tougher measures to tackle child marriage and teenage pregnancy would have a long way to go.