Overcoming needless childhood marriages in Tanzania

Thursday December 23 2021
Child
By Hellen Nachilongo

Aggie (not real name) was in Standard Seven, when she was married off in May last year.

She recalls that it was during pandemic and schools were closed temporarily when her father told her that she could not keep waiting for school to reopen yet there were several men who were willing marry her.

From Nyamtinga village, she was simply 14- year-old girl who gave birth in February this year and little did she know that her father had already recieved three cows as bride price.

Aggie’s husband is a livestock farmer in his 40s.


“I was just told that I will get married. I could not refuse because I was scared that my father would beat me up,” says Aggie.

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Since she gave birth, Aggie has been living a difficult life because she has to look after her child while her husband spends most of his time intoxicated.

Her husband always tells her that he cannot continue looking after her and the child, because he had already paid her father some cows.

He brings food when he feels like it, but there are times when he does not provide completely. This makes her beg from other households.

She further explained that she was currently in communication with peer educators to see how they could assist and connect her to good Samaritans who could look after her and her child.

“I want to divorce my husband but I am afraid because when I leave his place, I will not be welcomed at my parents’ home. I only wish someone could support me and the child,” she said.

Prevalence in Tanzania

According to the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Tanzania Child Marriage Fact Sheet, child marriage in Tanzania occurs more frequently among girls who are least educated, poorest and living in rural areas.

 About 61 percent of women between the ages of 20-24 with no education get married and 39 percent with primary education were married or in union at the age of 18, compared to only 5 percent of women with secondary education or higher.

The UNFPA and UN Tanzania fact sheet further stressed that, household wealth influences the prevalence of child marriages among all wealth quintiles.

The child marriage fact sheet further stressed that some of the drivers that lead to child marriage and early pregnancy include limited access to adolescent and youth friendly sexual and reproductive services.

Gender inequality between men and women, culture beliefs, and norms, harmful traditional practices such as setting of bride price and the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also add up to some of the drivers.

15-year-old Solela was lucky enough to have escaped marriage even though she was left with a scar on her right hand from her 51-year-old ex husband.

One day, three years ago, when she was only 12, her father brought a beautiful dress that looked like a wedding dress plus brand new shoes.

The dress was purposely brought to her so that she could wear it on the next day. Her father had already planned a farewell gathering for her.

A resident of Ngarawani, Solela (not her real name) recalls how she was dressed up in a good looking dress and accompanied by an old woman and two young sisters who carried some kitchen instruments that were bought by her father.

She was briefly married off to the man who was four times her age.

As time went on, everything seemed successful because she was taken to the man’s house who immediately left the celebration and went to his house to wait for her in his bedroom.

As she entered the bedroom, she was curious, trying to study the environment within the bedroom so that she could figure out how to run away from the man when she noticed there was a machete in the bedroom.

“When it was time to go to bed, I was a bit hesitant. The man tried to force me onto the bed but I deliberately kicked off a kerosene light and it got broken, the room became dark. I immediately rushed to grab the machete and hit hard twice on his hand and I was able to open the door. As I tried to run, he hit me on my right hand; lucky enough I was able to escape,” she says.

She had the courage to escape because she knew that she would be protected by some church members where she had previously received various awareness discussions on harmful practice that denied girls their right to make vital decisions about their sexual health and well-being.

Solela described herself as a very fortunate person because going to church helped her escape child marriage. When she arrived at the church, she found some church leaders who welcomed her. She immediately explained why she was there and one of the church members contacted the police station and Hope for Girls centre.

“Solela now lives a happy life, free from child marriage. She wants to be a fashion designer, is currently pursuing a tailoring course.

Serengeti district and head of department, community development officer Mr Wambura Sunday, said they introduced a campaign against child marriage and harmful practices since 2014.

He said outdated customs and norms practiced by a number of tribes are contributing factors that delay the efforts to eliminate GBV.

Some tribes do not want to change their mindsets and most of the tribes do not value girls’ rights; instead they consider them as third of the community.

Last year, we had to strengthen collaborative efforts with some Non –Governmental Organizations (NGOs), health experts, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Police Force to provide awareness in households to ensure girls were not married off during covid-19.

“We thought it was important to provide awareness to parents and children, in the interior villages so that children, especially girls are aware of their rights and are able to escape child marriage and FGM,” he said

He explained that they also integrated with prosecutors, police officers, health experts to discuss effective ways to eliminate harmful practice and child marriage, adding that since the integration, GBV cases including rape, forced marriege and genital mutilation were being reported.

In October,2021, the director of Public Legal Services in the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs, Mr Griffin Mwakapeje, told The Citizen that the Ministry has already prepared a bill criminalizing any issue related to child marriages including reviewing the Education Act 2016.

The visit to Mara was planned and funded by African Women's Development and Communication Network (Femnet).