The dark side of Dar’s marriage law
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JOYCE is hugged by Child Ambassador, Ms Valerie Msoka, as Rebeca Gyumi, Founder of Msichana Initiative looks on. Joyce had attended a girl’s agenda forum. The forum called for the government to increase the number of social workers as well as empower young girls in rural communities to fulfil their educational ambitions. (Photo by Sylivester Domasa)

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IT’s one year now since the High Court in Dar es Salaam ruled that the Child Marriage Act, 1971, should be revised to eliminate inequality in the minimum age of marriage between boys and girls.

The decades-old law allows boys to enjoy their teenage years against younger girls who can be married at 14 years with consent of the court or 15 years with parents’ approval.

Despite the High Court proposal, the government rejected the idea, further appealing against the decision. As calls pile-up demanding the government to reinforce the new court decision and amend the law, our staff writer met two young girls who were forced to marry against their will.

Roza was 14-years old when she was forced to get married three years ago. “Just after I had finished my Standard VII studies,” Roza says as her tears run down her cheeks.

“My daddy followed me. He told me I must get ready to be married.” She thought it was a big joke, but not in this male dominated community. Roza, was born and raised in a remote village in northern region of Tanzania, Shinyanga.

She knew if she gets married her dreams of becoming a traffic police officer would fade away. After completing her primary school education, she had good grades and was among the few selected pupils to continue with secondary education.

“I objected the idea. And that day I was seriously beaten up ... Yes I was beaten!” When she decided to run into hiding, her father got her and the next was a brutal beating. There was nowhere to go, she says "I got tired of the beatings and I agreed to marry a 35-year old man.”

Her father organised the wedding in the village. She says one year in the marriage she conceived and had her first girl child. “The marriage was bitter; I was being beaten by my husband anytime he feels so. He beat me even when I was pregnant.”

After a series of unending beatings, Roza escaped and went back to her parents’ house. With visible scars across her body she says: “I pleaded with daddy. I told him I am tired of being beaten every day.”

But the husband knowing she had his daughter, started demanding for the child. In another twist, her father had to decide whether to let her child go back or face the man.

It was not easy to side with his daughter as he had already pocketed monies from the ‘bad guy.’ The police also was someway asleep despite having a gender-based violence (GBV) desk.

Her decision to seek help from the village executive officer also could not change her awful experience or reduce the beatings. Roza who could not resist her tears from coming out, whispered in the undertone ‘child marriage is real.’

She was, however, rescued by a community-based organisation known as AGAPE. The organisation assisted her to file a case with the police and took her back to school where she is now in Form Three.

Since the case was reported no further action has been taken either at the community or at the court of law. Roza who no longer lives with her parents, says the government must change unconstitutional law of marriage and allow a girl child to marry when they turn 26 years.

Like Roza, Joyce also went through the same path. She was forced to marry when she was 15. Her daddy took 100,000/- (about 45 US dollars) and 15 cows from a 39 years-old friend in exchange of her daughter.

The young girl who aspires to become a nurse was also rescued by the same community organisation, shortly after getting news that a young girl was being married off in a remote village in Shinyanga.

Over hundred young girls are forced into child marriage every year in Tanzania. And Human Rights Activist Rebeca Gyumi says 36 out of 100 girls are married before 18 years.

“The figures are alarming and action must be taken to amend the marriage law.” The activist and founder of Msichana Initiative argues that since the government recognised the need to protect a schoolgirl against pregnancy, “then all girls deserve the protection right.”

According to her, the plan will enable all people including girls and women to contribute to the national economy and promote the industrial policy. A network of Tanzania Non-governmental organisation (NGO) and the United Nations have as well repeatedly issued statements calling for review of the outdated law.

The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) released by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows 36 per cent of girls aged between 20-24 were married before their 18th birthdays.

The state document further reveals that Shinyanga Region tops the list of child marriages with 59 per cent. Tabora (58 per cent) takes the second place, followed by Mara Region (55 per cent), Dodoma (51 per cent) and Lindi (48 per cent).

Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Deputy Minister, Dr Hamis Kigwangalla believes that the government had made a positive headway in promoting the rights of children.

He says amendment of the law needs a concrete and tangible understanding between stakeholders for the new amendments to be more effective. “The world and community is full of masculinity.

As the government we’re also in the battle ground to protect the girl child.” But in what can be described as retrogression, in Dodoma Municipality alone 27 girls dropped out from school between January and June, this year, according to the District Education Officer, Mr Leonard Msingwa.

“Among the victims, 10 were in Form One, five in Form Four and nine in form Three. The number appears to surpass last year’s 56 schoolgirls who were forced out of school due to pregnancy.”

The officer says a child is not mature enough to give birth and sadly to drop from school. Child advocate, Ms Valerie Msoka, says it is tormenting to see young girls’ dreams being shattered because of traditional practices and outdated laws.

“We have more than 40 organisations pushing for change of the law. We’re optimistic for victory,” she told the ‘Daily News’.

NB: Joyce and Roza names were changed to protect their privacy.

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