Every child has a dream. A beautiful dream where there is laughter and joy as children are surrounded with each other playing in the grounds, building Lego blocks, reading together in class, watching nice creative videos on YouTube, being shown love and support by the parents, sleeping soundly and warm in a nice bed, running in the a muddy field after the rains as part of childhood experience among so many other things.
Every child has the right to protection, against all forms of violence. However, some are subjected to harm in the name of upholding cultural values. Do you know where I am striking at with this conversation? No? Not yet? I am talking about Female Genital Mutilation and its direct relation to child marriage. All of these and a number of others are violations against the right of a child.
According to Girls Not Brides, 23 percent of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4 percent are married before the age of 15. The neighbouring country Tanzania has 31 percent of girls married before their 18th birthday and 5 percent married before the age of 15.
On October 23 2019, the highest court of the land ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directed the government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls within one year. A huge milestones for the rights for girls right?
According to Sections 13(1) of Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act of 1971, permission is granted for marriage of 15-year-old girls, while the minimum age of marriage for boys is 18.
Section 13. Minimum Age.
- No person shall marry who, being male has not attained the apparent age of eighteen years, or being female, has not attained the apparent age of fifteen years.
While the reasons for child marriage vary from country to country, most of them are similar with poverty at the top. The girl-child has been portrayed as inferior and therefore her needs placed after that of the boy instead of equal. Girls have been denied the right to education because families deem this as a “waste of time and resources” in the belief that their place is at home to be wives and bear children. The dowry paid to the girl’s family puts the family’s honour at the top since the girl married off will be pure and not “contaminated”, because sex has and is been viewed as a taboo.
FGM is interlinked with marriage of children because in the practising cultures, a circumcised female is a woman and therefore she can assume the responsibilities “purposed” for her. In the series of these events, the girl’s education comes to a stand-still because of the new duties she has to take at in her new home. There is no second chance for her because after she gets pregnant, which is risky, she cannot go back to study with her peers as they are already ahead. Let me back it up a little. I said risky because no lie it is DANGEROUS. A circumcised eight-year-old whose wounds have been stitched up and then now she has to deliver a child. Her body is not ready and neither is her mind. This means there are a lot of changes happening sooner than the body is prepared to for a later period in life.
In the country harbouring over 58 million people, there is a trend known as Nyumba Ntobu which involves an older, wealthier woman paying bride price for a young girl to become her wife. A man is then chosen to impregnate the girl and any children who are born belong to the older woman.
I have to give it up to Tanzania for this step in the right direction that should have happened sooner, although “better now than ever right”? Now, all eyes are on the implementers because they have until 2020 to make sure that the laws have been changed to read as per the ruling and action being taken.
Girls in Tanzania have a shot at choosing for themselves the age they want to get married with the support of the law of the land.