As Media for Development and Advocacy (MEDEA Tanzania) continues to implement its one-year Sauti Zetu Project with the support from Malala Fund, which focuses on increasing community understanding of Tanzania’s existing marriage law of 1971 and its implications to girls’ rights to education, we are grateful that the team has already completed implementation in two of the five intended regions.
In the last few weeks, a gender-balanced team of four project executors was in the Lindi region, implementing the project in the Lindi municipal and Kilwa districts.
Lindi is one of the oldest towns in Tanzania. It was established as a trade link between Zanzibar and the mainland in the 11th century by Arab traders, whose culture and religion still dominate the town and, to a lesser extent, the surrounding rural areas. Later on, the town flourished from trading activities and also as an administrative center for the Southern Province under British colonial rule. The decline of Lindi town started in 1952, when the main harbor and administrative center were shifted to Mtwara town, 108 kilometers away from the border with Mozambique. In 1971, Lindi town became the regional administrative center for the Lindi region. In ecological terms, Lindi town and its surrounding settlements fall into a relatively dry upland area suitable mainly for cassava and cashew nuts.
The Lindi region is one of the top five regions in Tanzania with the highest prevalence rate of child marriage (TDHS 2012), which is one of the reasons MEDEA Tanzania chose it as one of the five regions where the Sauti Zetu project is being implemented (Tabora, Lindi, Mtwara, Dodoma, and Kigoma).
The large number of underage girls who marry has implications for gender discrimination and human rights violations, as well as a negative impact on a region’s economy.
Upon arrival, the team met with Dr. Bora Haule, the Assistant Administrative Secretary, at Lindi’s Regional Commissioner Office to discuss a variety of topics, the most important of which was how we would introduce solutions to end child marriage without offending the traditions and customs that, at length, perpetuate the problem.
For what it is worth, Dr. Bora also initiated “Tumsaidie Akue Asome, Mimba Baadae”, a regional based campaign whose goals are similar to ours, and she stated that it is very encouraging to see others join forces and pick up where we left off in the fight to end child marriage.
Factors that Drive Child Marriage in the Lindi Region
Income Poverty as a Driver of Child Marriage
Child marriage is closely linked to poverty. Girls living in poorer households are almost twice as likely to marry before the age of 18, compared with girls in higher income households. Child marriage practices and attitudes toward accepting child marriage are often associated with income and poverty: in particular, child marriage may occur as a response to economic insecurity.
Income poverty and its impact on child marriage findings were obtained through the Base Line Survey conducted to local stakeholders and actors (religious leaders, ward executive officers, social welfare officers, gender desk officers), and local citizens; totaling 110 respondents from four wards of Lindi Municipal and Kilwa District in the Lindi region. Some of the qualitative data obtained from this survey is as follow;
“Poverty plays a big role… in our society. There is a limited means of income generation, so the parents marry off their daughters so they can obtain money as bride price”.
Selemani Simba, Tulieni-Lindi
Officials from the government also confirmed the role of poverty in driving child marriage. All government officials who participated in the BLS agreed that poverty, combined with ignorance, is a driving force behind child marriage.
In Lindi, many girls are forced into child marriages after getting pregnant to avoid shame in the community. They are forced to marry the men who impregnated them. Parents are also afraid that girls will become pregnant and shame their families, so they marry them off as children to protect family honor.
Participants had varied perceptions on the prevention of teen pregnancy or prevention of premarital sex as drivers of child marriage.
“Children have also been a challenge; children become hectic (micharuko/wahuni) at a very young age, in class 4. Children’s pregnancies are on the rise as a result of globalization and men who use ‘chips yai’ to entice young girls. We will try to convince parents to join forces in order to save our children”.
Vigilia John, Village Executive Officer of Shule village in Mikumbi
“Parents also contribute to child marriages because they do not have time to care for their children. You discover that a small child has a smartphone; the parent has no idea where her child obtained it. And some live with children who are not theirs and do not care about them; as a result, they have been tempted by men’s influence because they believe that there they will find the comfort they lack from their parents or guardians.”
Zwailati, Mikumbi resident
Based on field experience and work with girls on the ground, interviews with all women show that child marriage and teen pregnancy go hand in hand, as the accounts below reveal.
“The most serious problem we’ve encountered is teen pregnancy. It is related to the long commute to school. As a result, most girls are exposed and fall prey to bodaboda (commuter motorcycle) drivers and other people. “
Richald Kimaro, Lindi Municipal Social Welfare Officer; he then added,
“We are seeing more cases of teen pregnancy now than ever before, where girls become pregnant and are dumped”.
Several girls who were involved in the study also commented on adolescent fertility.
“…The girl lacked care from her guardians, so she sought comfort from a male neighbor. She later became pregnant and married him.”
Zwailati, Lindi Municipal
Initiation Ceremony (Unyago ceremonies)
Child marriage is becoming more common in the Lindi region as more people believe that traditional practices make girls more productive. This could be a result of the prevalence and importance placed on initiation rituals such as unyago, in which matrimonial matters are emphasized as part of the training provided to adolescent females.
Unyago would not be harmful if its sole goal was to transition girls to adulthood, as other communities do, rather than to increase maturity prior to marriage.
While conducting open dialogue, some people criticized the whole concept of Unyago ceremonies, claiming that they are the ones who teach children about sexual issues and that when they get out of there, they will be tempted to practice what they just learned.
“It is true that initiation promotes child marriages because there are girls who are very young to be taught what they are taught in the initiations, and what they are taught is shameful, and I have stopped attending those ceremonies since I realized this.”
Words from a former Unyago Practitioner- Jamhuri Ward, Lindi Municipal
And we discovered that mothers who are heavily involved in marrying off their daughters are influenced by women’s self-help groups. If she contributes to her partner’s daughter’s wedding ceremony, she becomes excited and looks forward to the day she will also receive contributions for her daughter, so she rushes the process and marries her daughter even though she is still young.
Knowledge of Child Marriage and Marriage Law
Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act of 1971 permits the marriage of 15-year-old girls, while the minimum age of marriage for boys is 18. This law doesn’t protect girls against child marriage.
In addition, the intervention sought to correlate legal awareness of child marriage with child marriage practice. The intervention used BLS to investigate general awareness of Tanzania marriage law, specifically among girls, local government officers, religious leaders, and the general community.
i). Knowledge of the Statutory Minimum Age of Marriage
Child marriage is ‘legal’ in Tanzania; the the lack of a marriage act that specifically prohibits child marriage is a key driver of child marriage. Understanding respondents’ awareness of the legal age of marriage for boys and girls is important because the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 allows girls as young as 14 to marry. The majority of BLS respondents mentioned 18 and above as the legal age of marriage.
“Child marriage is marrying their children off at a young age, which is below 18 years”.
Amani Aboubakar, Tingi, Kilwa.
The general perception among BLS respondents, on child marriage is that under 18 is considered child marriage. When asked about the legal marriage age, it was interesting to note that study participants also mentioned reasons why some parents choose to marry off their daughters at a young age. There were also a few respondents who had no idea what child marriage was or what the legal marriage age was.
ii) Enhancement and Legitimacy of Laws
Participants were asked the following questions: ‘are you aware of Tanzania marriage law?’; ‘are you aware of any girls in your community that dropped out of school and get married?’; and ‘are you aware of any local government leaders, child protection officers or police officers who enforce child marriage laws in their community?’
According to the findings, Marriage law is not understood by the local community and their respective leaders. From the respondents, more than 90% who were asked about marriage law were not aware about it including their local leaders. Even those who confirmed they know it, failed to give a clear meaning and/or self-contradiction.
”Marriage law means a married woman to be submissive to his husband”
Respondent in Igunga at Tabora region.
To be optimistic, most people are aware that marrying a girl under the age of 18 while she is still in school is illegal, but the problem arises when these girls are sometimes forced to fail their exams in order to marry, as stated by local government officials. It was also discovered that gender desks established in police stations to address gender-based violence do not appear to be effective because the idea of going to the police station does not sit well with many people in the community.
Speaking with Officer Beatrice Nchimbi leading the Police Gender Desk in Somanga Kilwa, she stated,
“We don’t receive many cases, and apart from the community embracing the problem, the gender desk being in the police station posed a challenge for people to report those cases.”
Finally, do you think it is possible to use the very traditions that support child marriages, to end child marriage, and if so, how ?
If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.
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