Source: allAfrica
Mara — Tarime is among the six districts in Mara Region, where child marriage is still being practised, despite campaigns by local and international organisations to stop it.

Joyce, 24, Elizabeth, 21 and Nyamburi, 23, from Susuni Ward are the victims of child marriage. They were forced to marry after undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Speaking to The Citizen recently, Elizabeth says she got married at the age of 15 and got her first born, when she was 16 years old. She faced some difficulties in raising the child as she did not know what to do for she lacked parental experience.

Besides that, she was about to die when she was giving birth due to excessive bleeding. The cause was a rupture in her reproductive track, but thanks to God she survived.

Elizabeth believes it will be hard to eradicate poverty if outdated traditions and customs are still practised for they violate the rights of women and girls.

She says she has ended up being a single parent of two children after her husband died three years of their marriage. Since then she has no reliable source of income and so she has decided to go back to her parents so that they could help her to raise her children.

According to her, poverty is the main factor for child marriage as most of the parents in Tarime District tend to force their daughters to marry so that they can be paid dowry.

Elizabeth says her parents received nine cows as dowry, believing that the cows would help them get out of poverty, but the level of poverty in her family increased because her parents have also to care for her and her two children.

The mother of two explains that her parents had to sell the cows so that they could get some money for the family upkeep. Even this didn't help much to change the situation.

Joyce, another victim of child marriage, says she was forced to marry when she was 17 years old. Like Elizabeth, she became pregnant and then gave birth to her firstborn the following year. She says she faced many challenges in taking care of her baby because she was still inexperienced.

Joyce, who is currently expecting her third child, says her husband was killed in a road accident in February. He was a motorcyclist (bodaboda operator).

As a widow she says she has to look after the entire family, including her in-laws, who are too old to work and earn any income.

According to the Kurya tradition, she says the last born son is the one to look after his parents, when they get old. So, since her husband was the last born, she says, she has the obligation to look after her in-laws together with her children.

She says her parents forced her to marry a year after she had undergone the FGM. The reason for this was poverty.

She said her husband paid six cows as dowry whereby her parents used the cows for farming. However, she says her family is still poor as the cows have not helped them much.

She says girls and women in the district fail to fight for their rights because, first of all, they are denied education, which, she believes, is the key to fight for their rights.

"How can someone, who is uneducated like me, fight for her rights? Most of the girls in the district, including myself, have not gone to school as boys do because our parents take us as a source of income. When you are 13 years old, they take you for FGM. After that they will find a man for marry you whether you like it or not," she says.

Joyce says because of poverty she cannot even manage to buy any medicine from a pharmacy when her children, in-laws or her herself get sick.

She says if is offered an opportunity to study, she will be able to start income generation activities.

In her childhood, she says, she had a dream of becoming a teacher or a nurse, but her hopes were lost after she completed her primary school education and was forced to marry.

She too says it is difficult to come of the poverty trap if outdated traditions and customs that create gender inequity are still practised. She suggests that women rights activists should, first of all, fight against the FGM, which, the community firmly believes, is the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

"After undergoing FGM, your parents regard you as a young adult and that you are ready to face adulthood obligations, including marriage. So, they will find you a man even if he has the same age as that of your father," she explains.

Nyamburi also has a similar story to tell. She was married at 16 and got her first born at 17, but she says, her marriage lasted for only two years.

Her husband paid six cows as dowry, but after their marriage broke up, her parents decided to return the cows because without doing that she would still be counted as the wife of her first husband and would not be allowed to marry another man.

In her marriage, she says, she did not enjoy because her husband used to beat her and during sex she used to experience pain due to the scars she got during FGM and child delivery.

She too got a rapture, when giving birth to her first born child and she would feel sharp pains especially whenever it was cold or during the rainy season, but her husband did not care about it. So, he decided to marry a second wife.

Learning that, she says she decided to go back to her parents as she could not bear the situation.

She explains her peers and herself are now involved in a three-year project implemented in five wards in the district by Plan International, whereby they are trained on entrepreneurship skills and on spreading public awareness on the effects of child marriage to the community.

Plan International Tanzania, in collaboration with Children's Dignity Forum in March last year launched a two-year project aimed at ending both FGM and child marriage in the district.

Plan International coordinator in Tarime District Shaban Shaban says the project is designed to reach 700 girls aged between 10 and 14 years and 600 more aged between 15 and 18 years.

The project intends to reduce incidents of child marriage and FGM in Tarime District and empower girls, including sensitising the community about the effects of FGM.

According to the 2010 Demographic Health Survey, two out of three girls in Tanzania marry before reaching the age of 18 years. Mara is the third region in the country to have high cases of child marriage with 55 per cent.

By By Beldina Nyakeke

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