By Anthony Tambwe
GIRLS who marry early are often excluded from formal education and employment and are at a higher risk to get pregnancy, HIV infection, disease and maternal health complications, such as obstetric fistula and eventual maternal mortality.
SHE was too young to understand the magnitude of her ordeal, but her young mind told her that it was something which will require divine intervention.
Sitting outside her mother’s house, she was sure that in the next few minutes she will be summoned inside the house, where several people were in deep conversation with her parents.
Her young brother, two years her junior, brought her bits of information and the story was that the delegation inside her mother’s house had one agenda to discuss, her impending marriage.
At barely 14 years, Sarah Kawogo did not know what it impelled to be married and all she knew was that a married woman was supposed to live with her husband and eventually bear children for him.
Through a crack on the window, her brother had pointed out her intended husband and old man who was considered the richest in the village, but the problem was, he was older than her father.
Cases like this are rampant in Tanzania and although the media has not reported on most of them, child marriages take place every day in most parts of the country.
Due to inaccurate birth and marriage records, it is difficult to record exact figures of child marriage in Tanzania. Yet child marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas where children get married as early as 11 years old. Some girls are forced to get married young to generate an income, or mahari (dowry), which can then be used by their brothers to secure a wife.
A 2008 survey on child marriage carried out by the non-governmental children’s rights organisation Children’s Dignity Forum found that child marriage was driven by various factors, including parents’ desire to get a dowry, especially when they are poor and lack of knowledge about the impact of such marriages.
The girl child in the country, apart from facing the marriage problem, are also faced with multitudes of other problems, which include female genital mutilation (FGM), exclusion from formal education, among others.
In a recent interview, the European Head of Corporation Observations, Eric Beaume said violations against children’s rights also have a spiraling and devastating effect and much wider impact on entire societies.
He said that child marriage affects not only girls and women themselves, but creates a cycle of poverty for generations to come, adding that girls who marry early are often excluded from formal education and employment and are at a higher risk of early pregnancy, HIV infection, disease and maternal health complications such as obstetric fistula and eventual maternal mortality.
“Across the world, thousands of children are denied the rights which the EU we often take for granted. Many are still unable to go to school; they are forced into marriage at an early age.
They have to work to provide for their families, they are victims of violence and human trafficking. In short, they are denied the basic human rights and the opportunity to meet their full potential as they grow up,” he says.
In Tanzania, the legal framework has been progressively strengthened with the adoption of the Children act by both Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar as the culminating outcome.
Important and commendable efforts are being deployed by national authorities of both mainland and Zanzibar to implement policy commitments and establish an integrated national social protection system as well as an effective Child Justice system, which can successfully protect the rights of the child and combat the multiple forms of violence against children.
“We trust that further progressive development suggested by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) will see the light in the future Constitution of Tanzania.
I hear that the last draft of the Constitution sets the legal age for marriage at 18 years for both boys and girls and we certainly welcome this as an important milestone to curb early marriage,” he says.
The European Union through its development cooperation with Tanzania is spending a total of EUR 6 million (Tshs 13billion) to support the establishment of an effective and integrated child protection and justice systems at both national and local level, in the mainland and Zanzibar.
“At the EU Delegation we’re actively involved, among other areas, in the fight against child labor and child trafficking. We also support the national efforts to establish effective and integrated child protection and justice systems… The total value of ongoing partnerships is approximately 6 million euro (13bn/-),” he revealed.
During the screening of a documentary -’Girl Rising’ by an Academy Award-nominated director Richard Robbins which was jointly organized by Plan International Tanzania and the EU Delegation, Mr Beaume said that the protection of the children’s rights is hindered by many challenges and constraints.
The screening was a run up to the International Day of the Girl Child which is celebrated on October 11 every year and celebrations to mark the 3rd anniversary of Plan International’s global advocacy campaign for the promotion and protection of girl child rights-Because I Am A Girl (BIAAG).
As a sign of further commitment, Mr Beaume told our reporter that the EU was pleased to announce that a further EUR 600.000 (Tshs. 1.3 billion) shall be contributed later this year under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights.
“Through this initiative we will be able to further support national efforts to end harmful traditional practices that legitimate sexual and gender-based violence, such as FGM and early child marriage,” the EU Delegation Head of Cooperation added.
Introducing the ‘Girl Rising’ film, the Country Director of Plan International Tanzania, Jorgen Haldorsen, said that the innovative feature film journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. “Girl Rising spotlights the stories of unforgettable girls born into unforgiving circumstances.
It captures their dreams, their voices and their remarkable lives… by sharing their personal journeys, the girls become our teachers to better understand the issues that girls face across the globe,” he says.
Mr Haldorsen said that screening comes at an apt time for Plan International since on Saturday October 11, across the world, it will be launching the Because I am a Girl report for 2014.
The report produced annually to celebrate ‘The State of the World’s Girls’ and the Plan International Tanzania Country Director seized the opportunity to launch the report at the event.
According to him, ‘Girl Rising’ was very relevant to Tanzania since girls in the country also face similar problems as those that feature in the film.
“In Tanzania we recognize that child marriage is one of the major barriers facing girls, with 37 per cent of girls being married when they are below 18.
Early pregnancies are also an acute issue hindering girls’ right to their education,” Mr Haldorsen said adding: “Plan International is currently working with Children’s Dignity Forum and Tanzania Football Federation to design a programme to end child marriage and female genital mutilation through the use of football to engage men, as well as empower girls.”