21 October 2018

Tanzania: Child Marriage - a Nasty Bump in the Road for Girls

Photo: Lauren Everitt/allAfrica
Young women perform in traditional dress in Arusha, Tanzania.

THE Law of the Child Act 2009 stipulates that a child is a person who is under 18 years of age. Early/child marriage is a formal or informal marital union where one or both people are below 18 years of age - often influenced by some traditions and religions.

Although child marriage often affects girls, boys are sometimes forced to marry at a young age too. When this happens, they often have to drop out of school and take unskilled jobs to support their new family.

However, when boys are forced to marry at a young age, it is usually to a child bride while most girls who are forced into child marriage are married off to men that are much older than they are.

Despite Laws, International Conventions and Goals that ban and call for an end to child marriage, this plight still faces thousands of girls around the world including in Tanzania.

Every year, about 12,000 girls worldwide are married before they are 18 years old. Statistics from the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS, 2016) indicated that 36 per cent of girls aged 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18 years old.

On average, 2 out of 5 girls are married before they are 18 years in Tanzania. Shinyanga, Tabora, Mara and Dodoma are the regions with the highest rates of early marriage in Tanzania at 59%, 58%, 55% and 51% respectively (TDHS, 2010).

Child marriage is more common in rural areas than it is in urban areas and occurs mostly in poor families because for the most part, the motive behind it is bride price - often in terms of cows - an important addition to the wealth of rural and lowincome households.

Poverty being a major driver for early marriages means that generally, girls from low-income families are more likely to get married before they reach 18 years of age than girls from higher-income families.

Poverty and discrimination, particularly against the girl child, are factors that keep feeding this harmful practice. Child marriage is not only a violation of children's rights;it also leads to a rather vicious cycle.

These marriages are forced, causing girls to drop out of school so that they can get married while denying them the right to make decisions about their own lives, wellbeing and fates. It is important to note that early marriage not only affects girls, it also affects families, communities and the country as a whole.

Girls who are poorly educated and unskilled are less likely to increase their household's income and the cycle of poverty that fuelled their own premature induction into marital duties continues and may later affect their own children.

Furthermore, early marriage can lead to health effects for girls because many get pregnant while they are still young and their bodies are not yet fully matured to safely conceive and give birth.

This can endanger the life of the mother and even her (unborn) baby. Even as there is a push for improved policies to protect girls and ensure equality between girls and boys; parents, teachers, guardians and community members all have a responsibility to bring about change for girls too - by educating others about the effects of child marriage, and reporting when we see a child being forced to marry.

For comments and/or inquires please call 116 National Child Helpline. This is a toll free service available across all networks in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar.

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