Kongwa. District Authorities in Kongwa are up in arms to fight “Ndima”, a tradition embraced by the indigenous villagers which offers bargaining window for a man to marry a teenage girl.
The tradition, according to the District Commissioner Deogratius Ndejembi, also offers leeway to a man who had impregnated a teenage girl to circumvent legal actions.
The DC says despite efforts by the district authorities to fight child marriage and early pregnancy, the local community still embrace the outdated tradition behind closed doors.
“There is a traditional custom known as ‘Ndima’ in the local Gogo language that’s practiced mostly by the natives in rural villages. Under such a situation where a man has impregnated a teenage girl, both families would sit down to settle the matter and allow a fine and dowry to be paid for the two be allowed to get married,” he explains.
The DC blames parents for not taking serious steps to report such incidents to relevant authorities. “In some cases, ‘Ndima’ is also practised when a man marries a teenage girl, some of them school girls,” explains the DC, saying serious measures have been put in place to arrest parents whose girl children abscond school.
A Social Welfare Officer in Kongwa District, Jovina Mauki, says girls are the most victims when it comes to early marriage. Due to poverty, she says, most parents have found themselves arranging marriage for their daughters so that they can get a dowry.
“It is very likely to find a teenage girl of between 14 to 16 years of age getting married, impregnated or having a child,” she says, adding that most of these girls come from poor families which can’t afford offering basic needs to their children. Jovina says despite the forces of peer pressure that compel teenage girls to engage themselves in unsafe sexual relationships that consequently result into early pregnancy hence early marriage, most parents are ignorant of the fundamental rights of their children.
“Most of them lack awareness on child rights. They are doing all these thinking that somehow they will reduce the burden of life. To some tribes, when a girl enters adolescent age, they believe it is the right time for her to get married, and it is here when they apply the so called “Ndima” tradition”, explains Jovina.
The Assistant Community Development Officer in Kongwa District, Paskalina Duwe, says most rural families harbour outdated traditions that deny a girl child of her right to education.
“Most of the native villagers feel that a girl child does not deserve the right to education. They would rather send her off to get married as soon as she enters adolescent age than guaranteeing her chances to go to school,” she says.
Faraja Kisui, the Kongwa Community Development Officer, says there is still yet high level of ignorance and lack of awareness among men in rural communities on the importance of education for girl child as well as on reproductive health.
“When a girl experiences her first menstruation cycle, her parents think that she is ready for marriage. Seeing the first menstruation period for most girls in some rural communities is like a way of saying goodbye to education and welcome to marriage life,” she says.
Faraja argues that in order to end child marriage, men should take decisive actions as they are the ones who made the decision and they should shun away some traditional norms which affect children, especially girls.
Kongwa Secondary School headmaster Alex Salum, says most parents have ignored their parental responsibilities and instead embrace customs and traditions which do not favour a girl child. According to him, it is easy for parents to arrange and ask their daughter to run away with a man.
“They would sometimes teach their daughter to lie on who was responsible for her pregnancy in an effort to protect the man – her future husband,” explains Alex.
Happy Chipuga, 17, a Form Four student at Mnyakongo Secondary School, feels sorry for the five girls who didn’t finish their secondary education because of teenage pregnancy.
”There is no doubt that education is key to life. Through education a person can manage to live a better life. Failing to finish secondary education due to early pregnancy or child marriage complicates things; girl’s education dream is cut off completely while at the same time as she becomes a young mother, she would be sailing in a pool of poverty and probably drowning in a poverty cycle,” says Happy.
A 2017 study by Forward shows that poverty is considered the leading driver of child marriage in Tanzania. Mahari – ‘bride price’ – involves a husband giving money, cattle or clothing to a bride’s family.
It is also common for girls to decide to get married out of their own will in search of income opportunities.