13 December 2012

Tanzania: Forced Marriages Curtail Girls' Hope for Education

Abject poverty in families, poor performance at school, truancy and conflicts among spouses in families have been described as reasons contributing to forced marriages in the country.

And, education stakeholders argue that the problem of forced marriages among schoolgirls has now become a national concern. Reports from various parts of the country confirm the seriousness of the problem by documenting cases of reported forced marriages from local governments and the police.

According to the reports by human rights and education stakeholders, schoolgirls aged as young as 12 years have been reported to be forced into early marriages. Many of the perpetrators of these acts are their close relatives such as fathers, uncles and aunties.

Clear examples are reported cases of challenges encountered by teachers from several schools in Coast Region where parents have been forcing their daughters out of schools for fear that they will delay getting married if they stayed longer in school. An education official in Mkuranga revealed that 15 girls in the district were reported to have dropped out of school with the intention to get married.

Parents in the district reportedly are of the view that a woman does not have to struggle for a living; instead she has to be taken care of by her husband. Therefore, the earlier she gets married the better. In other places, girls are lured into dropping out of school in accordance with traditional beliefs.

For example, in Kahama District, the Executive Officer, Ms Eliza Bwana, admits there have been increased cases of girls forced to drop out of school for marriage due to traditional beliefs among local residents. "Some parents discontinue education for their daughters and marry them off to men who would have secretly paid bride price.

To confirm that parents have taken bride price for their daughter, they cease to call her by her name. Instead they identify her as somebody's wife," Bwana explains. According to the District Education Officer, Ms Jacquiline Ntulo, girls from local communities in the district are viewed as a source of their parents' wealth.

Girls as young as 12 and 13 years old are victims of this practice. The early marriages are also contributed by hardships the girls face at school, including long distances they walk to and from school and the lack of school feeding programmes in most schools. Mvomero Ward Executive Officer, Mr Buhatwe Matage, says girls in the area are forced into early marriages for failure by parents to pay school fees.

Long distance also affects them, he says. He added: "Distance to and from school force girls to opt for marriage in order to avoid the daily hustle and staying hungry the whole day because of lack of food at school." The girls also face harassment on their way to and from school including sexual advances and rape.

It is reported that the girls walk an average of ten to 20kilometres daily to and from school. Ms Joyce Lufega, a resident of Lunsanga Village in Iramba District, Singida Region, admits to have influenced her daughter to ensure she performs badly in her Standard Seven examinations so that she could get married for a bride price of 100,000/-.

She says: "I forced my daughter to get married, but the marriage itself lasted for only four years because she was too young to cope with family responsibilities of a wife." Ms Grace Ezekiel (26) is another victim of forced marriage from Kisiriri Village in the district.

She says she was refused the opportunity to continue with secondary education in 2002 though she had been selected for further studies. "I stayed home for three years and thereafter forced to get married in 2006 after my parents received bride price from my father's friend of 200,000/-."

Reports from Endamarariek Ward in Karatu District, Manyara Region, indicate that this year alone, 14 girls are reported to have dropped out of school because of pregnancies. Like in many places in the country, authorities in the area faced challenges of taking into task perpetrators of the acts.

Mr Omari Mshana, Endamarariek Ward Executive Officer says the leadership there faces challenges of bringing perpetrators to book because of lack of cooperation from both the parents and the girls themselves.

"It becomes difficult for us to take action against such people because parents of the victims relocate their daughters to undisclosed locations and it is not easy for us to trace them," he says, adding that at times the parents bar their daughters from mentioning men responsible for their pregnancies.

There have been interesting cases from Simanjiro District, Manyara Region, whereby some girls deliberately fall pregnant so that they are expelled from school. According to Mr Kackson Mbise, the district education officer, only half of the girls who enrolled for primary education in the area completed primary school this year. He explained that only a small number of boys leave school to rear cattle.

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