TANZANIA, according to the World Bank, has made enviable progress over the last few decades in ending child marriage and increasing access to education for both girls and boys, thanks to initiatives such as the Fee-Free Basic Education Policy.
However, the same Bretton Woods financial institution says that the rate of progress towards reducing child marriage and improving educational attainment at the secondary level is too slow to enable Tanzania to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It says compared to other East and Southern African countries, adolescent girls in Tanzania continue to fare poorly and that much more can be done to unleash the benefits from investing in girls. Once a girl is married, it is very difficult for her to remain in school.
Ending child marriage and achieving universal secondary completion for girls, the World Bank proposes, could reduce fertility rates nationally by more than one fourth, thereby contributing to reducing population growth and improving standards of living through a higher gross domestic product per capita.
Indeed, girls’ education, child marriage, and early childbearing have significant impacts on a wide range of other development outcomes.
Limited education and early marriage and pregnancy can affect girls’ life trajectories in many ways, leading to health challenges, larger families, and lower earnings as adults.
Ending child marriage and keeping girls in schools would require investments in improving access to education and health services as well as the quality of these services.
The drivers of child marriage, early child-bearing, and low educational attainment for girls are complex, and have been documented in government studies.
Poverty, social norms, and gender inequality all play a role. In the past, Tanzania has proven that it can make tremendous progress in ending traditional harmful practices. This has been the case with female genital mutilation.
It can also be done with child marriage. For the most marginalized sections of the society, schools are reported to be still unsafe environments where verbal and sexual harassment, abuse, and violence prevail.
In many places, high pregnancy rates very often keep girls out of school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. It is also essential that comprehensive sexuality education is introduced in all schools.
This type of counseling not only helps students resist peer pressure to engage in or accept violence, but also leads to a reduction in early pregnancies.
Education deserves a central position because girls continue to be more likely to face the worst forms of exclusion – especially as COVID-19 threatens to push inequalities to extremes.
For Tanzania, it is important to celebrate the progress that has been made so far. But we also need to remember how much remains to be done in order to achieve true gender equality in and through education.