In an effort to tackle the rampant child marriage in their community, the people of Engalaoni village in Arumeru District have established school clubs where their children including 70 who had been rescued from such marriages share ideas about the harmful effects of the practice, and a gender desk at the village to deal with all the complaints, track down the perpetrators and work closely with the law enforcers to arrest and arraign the perpetrators.
“When I got back home from school, I found a 45-year-man. My father introduced him to me as my husband to be,” recounts Veronica Napoleon 14*, who was rescued from getting married by the police, the village gender desk in collaboration with a Non Governmental Organization.
Veronica says she entered the house crying, noting that her education dreams were almost dimmed following her father’s stance on marrying her off to an older man.
“My father told me that going to school was not important for he had received the dowry, noting that since our family had been in abject poverty, marrying me off was the solution to ending the problem,” says Veronica, adding that the man who wanted to marry her already had three wives.
She says after a couple of days, she was informed that police officers and an organisation had come to their village to talk to her father over the issue, noting that when the man who wanted to marry her learnt about it, he also opted to go into hiding.
Veronica is the one of the 70 schoolchildren at Engalaoni Primary School in Mwandeti Ward who escaped early marriage thanks to the villagers’ efforts and the gender desks.
A part from that, 12 boys, who had embraced grazing livestock at the expense of studies, returned to school from October to December last year.
The executive director for the Center for Women and Child Development (CWCD) organisation Hindu Mbwago said members of the Maasai tribe use sugar as dowry for a girl below 18 at Engalaoni village in Arumeru District.
“Most of these girls were in primary schools, we succeeded on rescuing them due to the effort being done by the gender desk together with the villagers who fought for the rights of children,” says Ms Mbwago.
Mbwago says before marriage the men used different procedures which include 2-3 kilogrammes of sugar. He leaves and after one week he will return again with two crates of soda or illicit brew and five kilos of sugar again.
“Then he will return in another week again if that dowry is not rejected, he will send another four gallons of illicit brew and sugar. On this day, the girl in question will be wearing a special traditional watch as a sign of engagement,” says Ms Mbwago.
When everything goes well, these men will finish the procedure by paying a cow and two bulls alongside one ewe.
“These girls were already in the process of being married off. After all, traditional procedures had been followed and completed,” she says.
She says poverty and outdated customs are the reasons behind marrying off schoolgirls.
“Most Maasai families are not poor but would always want to own more herds of livestock. Due to that, they think marrying off schoolgirls is a means to fulfill their goals,” she says.
When the Centre for Women and Children Development Organisation realised the problem they availed the report to the authorities, including Arusha District Council leaders who rescued children from the abuse. The exercise went smoothly due to cooperation accorded by the law enforcers in the district by the local villagers who are shunning the practice after an awareness campaign about the impact of outdated cultures to children’s future.
She says through education, they established children school clubs, and the gender desk, whose role was to mobilise a good number of students against early marriage in which 70 children who had escaped marriages were involved in educating their fellows, thanks to law enforcers who had arrested and arraigned the perpetrators.
“Children clubs helped in building self-awareness, which really helped to rescue other eight girls who were about to get married in the same week of the commemoration of the Day of the African Child. Adding that payments had already been done for girls who had worn special wedding watches,” she noted.
Ms Mbwago says they had embarked on educating village leaders, ward and families, adding that at the school club, children educate each other about the negative impacts of early marriages and sexual violence.
She extends accolades to village gender desks for being able to work on reports on violence urgently.
“We thank the gender desks for the job well done because it is through them that we had managed to send over 32 children who were older to start school to continue with their education,” she says.
Children can easily report cases of abuse to the village chairman or the village gender desk and get listened to unlike in the past when a child could be mistreated and had nowhere to lodge complaints,” said Ms Mbwago, noting that through the gender desks, children are now aware of their rights.
Speaking about the efforts of Engalaoni village, Ms Mbwago says despite the fact that public awareness campaigns, child abuse; expecially cases of sexual abuse are still rife in Arusha.
“The escalating rate of child marriages is caused by lack of education, noting that the some communities embrace bad cultural practice under the umbrella of perpetuating their uniqueness against other ethnic groups, “she says.
Ms Mbwago decried the pace under which courts quash cases related to child abuse, noting that perpetrators ignore court summons and enjoy freedom which should not be the case.
She says in the court children are mixed with their abusers, who are usually adults and under such circumstances minors are deprived of freedom of expression due to fear.
“Traditionally, minors are not allowed to speak in front of their elders. Based on that regard, they automatically lose their freedom of speech,” she noted.
She said that there are cases where children get bombarded with cumbersome questions before the court of law, a situation that leads them to lose their rights altogether.
“Law enforcers’ do not also put into consideration that minors should be accompanied by social welfare officers whenever they attend court sessions,” said Ms Mbwago, adding that sometimes the case file “disappear’ hence there is a need for children court,” she says.
She stated that there is still poor cooperation between the gender desks and parents of the victims, who mostly solve the issues outside the court of law despite awareness campaigns that have been done.
According to latest evidence on child marriages in Tanzania published by 2017 study entitled “Child Marriage in Tanzania at a Glance” Tanzania is one of the countries whose records of child marriage is high in the world over in which almost two out of five girls are married off before 18.
Due to inaccurate birth and marriage records, it is difficult to record the exact figures of child marriages in Tanzania, yet child marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas where children become wives as early as 11-year olds.
The Findings from 2017 show that 36 per cent of girls between 20 and 24 years old were married before the age of 18 in 2016. It also indicates that the drive of child marriage practices was constant for six years; from 37 per cent in 2010 to 36 per cent in 2016.
Child marriage is most common in Tanzanian rural areas and is mainly driven by poverty, outdated traditions, customs, and religion.
Shinyanga, Tabora, Mara and Dodoma are regions cited to be notorious for the vice. Some regions have higher rates than others, Katavi 45, Tabora 43, 39 Morogoro 37 Mara and 34 Shinyanga.
However Arusha District Council education officer Grace Massawe said in Arumeru District, the reported cases of child marriages are 17 for girls in primary schools and 47 for those in secondary schools.
She said they already managed the problem in her district and they continue to educate the community through different organisations to make sure all the kinds of children abuse are eradicated.
“Child is defined as a person who is under 18 years old. Child marriage refers to a civil, traditional, religious or informal union in which case, either the bride or the groom, or both are under the age of 18.”
She says child marriage is a violation of children’s rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy. Girls who live in rural areas and come from poor families are also more likely to be married early,” she says.
She says early marriage not only deprives girls of education and opportunities but increases the risk of death or serious childbirth injuries if they have babies before their bodies are ready.
Neema Mussa 15*, a Grade Seven pupil was among the girls who went to the ward gender desk and asked to be rescued from early marriage.
“I got married at 12 because of the hardship at home and my father had already received sugar and alcohol as dowry” she says adding:
“My father prohibited me from going to school when I was in Grade Six so after FGM, he took dowry which forced me to get married at tender age.”
Neema extend thanks to the ward gender desk for she has now gone back to school.
Speaking during the International Day of the African Child event last month which was organised by the government in collaboration with Plan International and the other stakeholders in Kilimanjaro region, the Deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Faustine Ndugulile said schools were the safest places for children who were prone to abuse, pointing out that a recent survey had shown that 49 children out of 100 had experienced sexual abuse in their homes and had nowhere to report the cases.
Commenting on child marriage, he urged the public to keep on informing the media about child abuse incidents to support the fight for children’ rights protection and their humanity.
He added that the Child Act of 2009, section 21 encourages rights of the children; hence, all people must obey the law.
He added that, the ministry had introduced a-free 116 hotline through which children can easily report about any kind of abuse and get immediate assistance. *Names have been changed to protect the child
“We have devised the hotline usage strategy after noting that the current generation is too active to deal with phones and in so doing a good number of child abuse cases have been reported and addressed,” he says.
“Use this number whenever you or your friend is in trouble. You have the right to live, to be protected, to be educated, to be heard and to be included in decision making in all matters concerning you children.