Child marriage is a gross human rights violation that puts young girls at risk and keeps them mired in poverty. Unfortunately, this problem is more prevalent than what one might think, because a recent report says that more than 60 million girls under the age of 18 are married, many to men twice their age or older.
The report made by one Non Governmental Organization (NGO) called CARE argues that if child marriage continues at its current rate, an additional 100 million girls in developing countries will be married within the next decade. That's 25,000 new child brides every single day for the next 10 years.
The CARE report confirms that poverty plays a central role in causing and perpetuating early marriage. "Poor countries and families often have few resources to support healthy alternatives for girls, such as schooling. In such families with limited resources, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for their daughter's future.
However, girls who marry young have an increased chance of being poor and remaining poor", says the report in part. Marrying at a young age has lifelong consequences. Early marriage thwarts her chances at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development. Maternal health risks are particularly troubling as risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s.
Taken together, the costs of this practice are too high to be ignored; societies cannot progress when even the common practice of marriage dooms girls and women to a life of poverty. CARE works with families, communities and local organizations to both reduce the prevalence and less the many harmful impacts of child marriage through educational and behaviour-change programmes.
It is the above situation that prompted a Catholic congregation of nuns in Arusha region to establish Emusoi Centre, which helps pastoralist girls (mainly Maasai) to gain access to secondary education. The Centre, which is run by Maryknoll Sisters provides a transitional space for young women coming from traditional life styles, where the girls are prepared academically, socially and psychologically to join the multi-cultural/multi-tribal environment of secondary schools in the area rather than a school for Maasai only.
Emusoi supports and assists them as they progress through school. The girls experience this moral support especially if they have passed through the pre-secondary programme at Emusoi, and they also have the experience of dealing with a mixture of cultural groups in the schools they attend. This widens their experience and prepares them for life in a global community of the future.
The Centre also serves as a safe house for girls who run away from home to avoid forced marriages. According to sister Mary who teaches at Emusoi centre, sometimes girls come by themselves. Sometimes a relative, village leaders, NGOs or church leaders bring the girls. They often cannot return to their home areas for holidays for fear of forced marriages, so they stay at Emusoi.
When the project began, the target group was restricted to Maasai girls, but since 2003, the centre has agreed to accept two Barbaig (nomadic pastoralists) per year and it is educating five girls from the Hunter/Gatherer Societies of the Ndorobo and Hadzabe. These girls came from poor families living in very remote areas. Without our intervention, these girls would be married off in arranged marriages soon after finishing primary school.
Each year 40-50 young women are provided with remedial/pre-secondary studies and helped to join first year high school in government and private secondary schools. The 15-20 students finishing high school are helped to join higher studies or junior college. The 5-6 students finishing A levels or Junior College are helped to join University or professional studies.
Emusoi supports all these young women financially by paying school fees, providing school supplies, textbooks, paying and also providing the personal needs of the students. The funds come mainly from private donations. After completing her degree of Social Work and Social Administration at Kampala International University in July 2008, Naino Parteyo worked as a Human Resource Manager at Sokwe Asilia Tour Company in Arusha.
In April 2009 she was hired by Emusoi as a Social Worker and Advocate, and she says that she is very proud to be working at Emusoi Centre. "I am Maasai and come from the community and know traditions and the changes the people are undergoing. I am using this experience, my education and role as a social worker to educate the pastoralist community and to accompany the girls in formal and life education", says Naino.
The work that she is engaged in each day includes providing personal counselling for the students helping with career counselling for the students when they are in their last year of secondary education. Naino also gives seminars on relevant topics such as Health, AIDS, Sexuality, Personal Relationships, Self-Awareness and Gender Issues. She also deals with the schools in which students study and intervene in cases where they have problems in school.
The Centre now supports over 650 women in Secondary School, Vocational training, colleges and universities. Among them 21 finished university and vocational training and 16 are expected to join universities. Forty-one girls who finished Form 4 in 2009 have been placed in different courses; 16 in advanced level studies, 24 in teacher training courses and one in nursing, 16 girls finished advanced level studies this year and 7 have begun university studies.
Most of these girls have obtained student loans and Emusoi is helping with the small percentage of the fees that remain. We are unable to support these girls totally because of limited resources. Other girls finished teacher training, community development, social work and hotel management, tour guide and records management. Many of these girls are already employed.
As the world marks the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, there is a need to appeal to everyone to participate in promoting child marriage in all tribes of Tanzania. The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign set aside by the United Nations to create awareness about gender-based violence and taking action to end violation of rights in homes. Pending question is - Can other areas in the country that face child marriage emulate this vivid example and establish centres like 'Emusoi' to give dignity to our young girls?