CHILD marriage also known as early marriage is any marriage carried out below the age of 18 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing.
Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world and according to the 2016 Tanzania Demographic Household Statistics (TDHS) 36 per cent of women between 20 and 24 years old were married before their 18th birthday.
This means one third of all girls in the country were married when they were still children. Comparing 2010 and 2016 TDHS data show that there has not been any changes on child marriages in the last six years - 37 per cent in 2010, 36 per cent in 2016.
The data show higher number of child marriages in the regions of Shinyanga 59 per cent, Tabora 58 per cent, Mara 55 per cent, Dodoma 51 per cent and Lindi 48 per cent.
A year long national survey on reasons and impact of child marriages conducted last year cited poverty, Socio-cultural norms and traditions, lack of education opportunities as the key drivers to child marriages in the country.
The report on the survey conducted in ten regions in the country cited contradictory laws and policies that discriminate against girls, recommending for a comprehensive communications strategy to be put in place to educate families, guardians, parents and the general public on the evils of child marriages.
The 10 regions that participated included Shinyanga, Tabora, Mtwara, Iringa and Dar es Salaam,”. The government, media and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should be key actors in promoting the strategy’s implementation whose main objective would be to change the mindset of the general public with regard to child marriages and its negative impact in the country.
The survey was carried out by Policy Research for Development, RE POA, with collaborative efforts from the government, the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Plan International and Foundation for Women Health Research and Development (FORWARD).
When launching the report the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu blessed the efforts to address child marriages in the country, noting that she will make sure laws discriminating against girls are amended.
Minister Ummy however stressed that changing laws and policies will not work if respective authorities will not follow up to ensure the laws are implemented and adhered to, citing a case in point of amendments of the Education Act which requires Headteachers of Primary and Secondary Schools to provide quarterly reports on child marriages and pregnancies of pupils and students in their respective schools to the Commissioner of Education.
Ms Ummy then ordered the Director of Children in her ministry to furnish her with a report on schoolgirl child marriages and child pregnancies, within this month.
The one-month ultimatum requires the Director to avail a detailed report on how many heads of schools have so far submitted quarterly reports on the number of teen pregnancies and child marriages in their schools to the Commissioner of Education in the ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training.
Minister Mwalimu stressed that it is a legal requirement stipulated in the Education Act of 2016 for heads of schools to provide quarterly reports to the Commissioner of Education.
“The Education Act of 2016 amended by Parliament requires heads of primary and secondary schools to provide quarterly reports to the Commissioner of Education...who has followed this up to find out if these reports have been submitted to the Commissioner of Education? No one,” she said while looking at her Director of Children.
She added: “As we seek to change and amend laws that discriminate against children including the Marriage Act of 1971, this will amount to nothing if we do not follow up to ensure the laws are implemented and adhered to.”
Ms Mwalimu explained that all stakeholders have been blaming guardians and parents and the government, yet laws that were amended to provide stiffer penalties to those who marry or impregnate school-going children are not being implemented by respective authorities.
“Director, if I ask you how many heads of schools have submitted the report, you will not be able to tell me. So within one month, I want a countrywide report on how many heads of schools have submitted quarterly reports as the law requires,” the visibly angry Minister stressed.
She explained that the Education Act of 2016 has also stated that any head of school who does not submit the quarterly reports would have committed a criminal offence, “and there is also a penalty for that.
I am not very sure how many days in jail. This is a legal requirement, the head teacher has no option in this.” The Minister stressed that without jailing guardians and parents who encourage child marriages, government and stakeholders’ efforts to eradicate the vice in the country would be futile.
She also directed community development officers under her ministry to provide her with a report on the implementation of the Education Act of 2016, with regard to child marriages and teen pregnancies in their respective councils.
“Each community development officer must tell us their input in the implementation of the law which has provided stiffer penalties to those marrying and impregnating schoolgirls,” she explained.
She further urged NGOs, development partners and other stakeholders to move their bases to rural areas where child marriages and teen pregnancies are high.
“It is in the rural areas that we have higher rates of child marriages and teen pregnancies and not in urban areas where the NGOs and other stakeholders are based,” she urged.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Assistant Representative, Christine Mwanukuzi, expressed hope that the research will change the current trend of child marriages.
Deputy Head of Mission in the Swedish Embassy in the country Mr Ulf Kallstig commended governments and stakeholders efforts in promoting Child rights in the country.
“When I arrived in Tanzania in September last year, I have been informed of many activities related to strengthening Child rights in the country. Child or early and formed marriage is one area that impacts negatively on the Rights of the Child,” he explained.
Mr Kallstig said Sweden is the first country in the world to pursue a feminist foreign policy, which has enabled the country to contribute to ensuring that basic human rights, media freedom, children’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights and gender equality are kept on the development agenda.
“Sweden marriage law has long been that a person under the age of 18 has not reached the maturity required to independently take a position on the kinds of personal and financial issues that arise in marriage, The country does not recognise marriages registered abroad if one of the parties is under 15 years old and the minimum age for marriage in Sweden is 18,” Mr Kallstig said.
He stressed that child marriage violates girls rights to health, education and opportunity and exposes girls to violence throughout their lives and traps them in a cycle of poverty, “child marriage is fuelled by gender inequality, poverty, traditions and insecurity”.
“The participation of men and boys in gender equality efforts is essential. Their involvement is crucial in removing social and cultural barriers for women and girls. Indeed we should recognise that men and boys are also victims of gender stereotypes,” he added.
UNFPA Programme Analyst, Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Ms Fatina Kiluvia said UNFPA is working to safeguard women and girls health including protecting them from child marriages and child pregnancies, noting the situation on child marriages and child pregnancies is still dire.
Ms Kiluvia stressed on the need for parents, guardians and families to take on the mantle of helping their children develop and practice responsible sexual behaviour and personal decision making.
She explained that although many feel uncomfortable talking to their children on sexual and reproductive health issues, it is important now more than ever as children are currently engaging in sexual activities, exposing them to sexual transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids and child pregnancies.
Ms Kiluvia added that comprehensive sexuality education should be included in school curriculums for teachers to play their part in educating the youngsters on sexual issues so they can make informed decisions.
Currently sexuality education in schools is not provided as a standalone subject; rather it is mainstreamed in other subjects, namely Social Studies, Science, Civics and Biology but it is not clear how much sexuality education is covered in these subjects.
According to a research by Kitila Mkumbo, titled ‘status of sexuality education in national curriculum’, the current sexuality education delivery mainly focuses on knowledge, and little attention is paid to the other aspects of sexuality education, namely skills and relationships and attitudes and values.
Also, a greater part of sexuality education is covered during secondary education level, which is arguably too late given that sexuality education works effectively if it is provided early before young people reach puberty, in this case during primary education level.