Source: Daily News
THE national website on gender issues clearly states that the government of Tanzania recognises that women's advancement and achievement of gender equality are a matter of human rights and a condition to social justice.

It also states that the government reaffirms its commitment to enhancement of women's rights for national and world progress. However, activists and international organisations advocating for better reproductive health services and gender equality have blamed practices of child marriage in the country for perpetuating gender inequality and violation of the rights of women and girls.

They are of the view that child marriage removes protection from girls and forces them into early adulthood, while guardianship laws treat adult women as minors subject to a guardian's control. The Law of Marriage Act of 1971, Section 13(1) sets the minimum age of marriage for girls at fifteen years, but under section 13(2), a court may give permission for a girl as young as 14 to get married. 13(1)-(2).

This is unacceptable as girls at the said ages are still in adolescent stages. The teenage mothers (percentage of women ages 15-19 who have had children or are currently pregnant) in Tanzania was last reported at 22.80 in 2010, according to a World Bank report published in 2012 while adolescent fertility rate (births per 1;000 women ages 15-19) is at 129.38 Such data makes Tanzania a country with the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world with early marriages and school dropouts been singled out as major forces behind the situation.

The matter was discussed in a recent media advocacy workshop on the African Union's Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) held in Kampala. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Technical Advisor for East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), Dr Asha Mohamud, said while presenting a paper titled 'Responding to the needs of adolescents and young people in ESAR' that Tanzania adolescent fertility rate seems stagnant.

"According to UNESCO Diagnostic Report based on World Bank's World Development Indicators, Tanzania adolescent fertility rate from 2007 to 2010 has remained persistently high and stagnant," she said. Dr Mohamud clarified that the situation would have been a result of early marriages as Tanzania is among countries in the region allowing marriage of girls at young ages.

She added that the fact that girls are dropping out of schools after being impregnated and there are no programmes in place to make sure that they go back to school, is another reason why fertility among youths is high. "It is, however, important to note that Tanzania has significantly reduced the new HIV/AIDS infection but much should be done to address the issue of adolescent fertility," she said.

The Assistant Representative for UNFPA Uganda, Dr Wilfred Ochan, said the main driver of high fertilities in African countries is adolescent fertility as many girls give birth at young ages between 15 to 19 years. "There are very high adolescent birth rates in Central and Western Africa. In East Africa, Tanzania tops the list with 150, this means that in every 1000 young girls in Tanzania 150 aged between 15 and 19 years are mothers," he said.

"There are questions to ask ourselves when it comes to these fertility rates among adolescents because people at this age bracket are supposed to be in school, but we should also be curious to know whether they do get any kind of sexuality education," he said. He added that in Africa, any pregnancy is a risk but it doubles when it comes to adolescents, hence posing a danger of having increased maternal mortality.

"Rural and uneducated women are the ones who have more number of children than they want. A woman giving birth at the age of 15 years is likely to have so many children when she reaches 30 years," he said. The UNFPA Assistant Representative for Tanzania, Dr Rutasha Dadi said the situation is alarming and the long time opposed law of marriage Act should be amended as soon as possible.

Dr Dadi also noted that the government should put strong systems in place to ensure that girls get opportunity to stay longer in schools and ensure school dropouts are restricted. "Getting marriage is an act that requires a consent and it is an agreement that can only be entered into by the people, who have reached adulthood otherwise allowing a 15 years girl to be married will be breaching a fundamental human right," he said.

Dr Dadi added that allowing young girls to get married would as well imply that the country is sacrificing its people because such young girls are neither ready to become pregnant nor are they ready for give birth because of physical tenderness. He added that such girls cannot make good mothers because they are themselves children, who need to be under the guardianship of their parents.

Dr Dadi also noted that emphasis should be in rural areas where cultural beliefs and ignorance among societies has been a hindrance as many among girls are married off at very young ages. He was on the view that it is essential for the law to protect the rights of the wife so that she may bring up her children to be good citizens.

"This is societal problem because it starts from people themselves, the issue of cultural beliefs is a key here especially in rural areas and some parents are just arrogant and they compel their girls to get married, we need sensitization to end this practices," he said.

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