Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Child Marriages - Marrying Off Girls No Panacea for Poverty

WHEN she returned home to her mother to report the abuse being perpetrated by her husband, 14 year-old Hafswa Gumbo of Kisarawe in Coast Region, did not know that she had already attained puberty and was actually pregnant.

She had been forced to drop out of school when she was in Standard Five and married off by her parents who had been shouldering an embarrassing debt from a land lady. Hafswa's father bought two acres of a cassava farm on which he built a small family house, some four years ago.

However, the poor family had not been able to settle the outstanding 250,000/- and the land owner was threatening to evict them from her property. He had consulted with his wife and both had made a decision to marry off their daughter, so they could spare themselves the shame of being thrown out of the farm.

Unfortunately, the plan worked fine for the farm but not for their child's marriage. Hafswa was not only a child but had been married off against her will.

According to a neighbour Aziza Chaurembo (pen name), whom she had established a kind of friendship and thus confined her sadness and sorrow, she had failed to endure the beatings from the so-called husband.

"Hafswa tells me that her husband is an egoist, who cares about nobody else in their house except himself. He beats her for just a minor thing like when he discovers that his shoes were not polished well enough or if a favourite shirt that he wanted to wear had not been washed," says Aziza who owns a green vegetable stall, adding that the Hafswa's husband treats her like a house girl and orders her to run an errand even when she has visitors.

Although poverty drives families to make unwise decisions, the government has enacted by-laws that prohibits child marriage and which ensures that all children have access to education, whether they are rich or poor. A fine or jail sentence awaits any parent who disobeys this directive.

In some areas of Coast Region, however, parents are still bound by cultural norms and beliefs. There is a general feeling that girls have to get married at a tender age before they start involving themselves in sexual relationship, to avoid pregnancy out of wedlock.

"We also believe that a woman does not have to go very far in education as she will be looked after by her husband when she gets married anyway. Age does not matter; as soon as a girl attains puberty, she can be married off, " says Fauzia Ahmed, "an indigenous resident of Coast Region.

Nafissa Sabaly (17), a Ghanaian girl who has been forced to drop out of school by her parents and was married off, has been quoted online as saying that she regrets that this has limited her ability to pursue her educational goals and love of learning.

The UNICEF warns that girls who are forced to leave school and marry too young are much more likely to experience health complications during childbirth and be vulnerable to domestic violence. Their human rights to education, health and protection, among many others, are being breached.

It also states that attempts to downplay the prevalence and nature of child abuse in society often blame poverty as the main cause. Adding weight to the need for society to protect children especially girls from abuse, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says each year 40 million children under the age of 15 are victims of family abuse or neglect.

It says violence against mothers has serious psychological consequences for children in the household, contributes to the disintegration of families and perpetuates the cycle of violence. While protection of children begins with the family, in areas where child marriage is practised, the tendency is to leave and abandon those children and let them fend for themselves and their babies, without caring for their access to health and wellbeing of their newborns.

"The babies are vulnerable to childhood diseases, including dangerous ailments like diarrhoea and malaria. Child mothers have no strong sources of income, so they cannot fend for their families, " warns a Social Welfare worker in Dar es Salaam, Protus Mngumi.

In their determination to help restore women and children's dignity, the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), the Crisis Response Centre and the Zanzibar Female Lawyers have launched an initiative named the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Programme (GEWEII).

The programme which is focusing its activities in the regions of Dar es Salaam ( Ilala and Kinondoni), Morogoro ( Mvomero), Lindi ( Rural), Mtwara, Ruangwa, Coast Region ( Kisarawe), Pemba ( Wete) and Unguja (West, South and Centre) seeks to empower women with knowledge on their basic rights.

"An empowered woman is knowledgeable and demands her right to opportunities. She can defend herself from various social evils, including genderbased violence (GBV). Education for girls is their birth right and no one has right to deny them," says Mr Mngumi.

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