Source: Tanzania Daily News
Standing in front of her family's small hut at Manerumango in Kisarawe District, Amina Adam, 16, cuddles his one-year old baby who looks hungry and pale.

Amina pays no attention to the two visitors arriving on a bodaboda on a fine weekend. She attempts to breastfeed the baby but makes no progress as the hungry child kicks his feet so violently that he irritates his mother.

However, when he spots the visitors, he shows some interest and stops crying for a while. He accepts a packet of biscuits and munches them mercilessly.

The environment tells it all, poverty and hunger surrounds this poor homestead. As the child settles for the biscuits and a bottle of soda, this gives Amina chance to tell her sad story. She lives with his grandfather after both parents died in a road accident when she was five years old.

She managed to attend primary school and sat Standard Seven examinations. "Being an orphan wasn't really a problem. I accepted my situation and moved on. In my class, I was always at the top," says a shy Amina. When examination results came out, she was selected to proceed to Form One at a girls' school.

However, her grandfather objected to the success story and insisted that at the age of 16, she was already late for the initiation ceremonies. "My aunts were pressuring my grandfather to allow me to go for the ceremony, popularly known in our language as kuchezwa ngoma.

My peers had already gone through it and almost all of them were married," said Amina. Her grandfather gave in to the aunts' pressure and the ngoma ceremony was prepared far away from home. She was not allowed to return, until a man to marry her had presented the dowry.

No mention on education was made and every family member had forgotten that Amina had passed his primary school examinations and was supposed to enrol for secondary school. "My aunt discouraged me from pursuing secondary school education saying no girl in our village had made it to a decent life, let alone get a job, after graduation.

She was therefore forced to get married as the grandfather was also adamant, saying he was no longer capable of providing her with basic needs. Unfortunately, the man who married her left the village when she was eight months pregnant and went to an unknown destination to look for a job. He never called her since or returned home. In fact, he changed his mobile phone number.

Today, Amina is not only a school-drop out, but also a child single mother. In rural areas of Coast Region, traditions unfairly force girls to get married at a tender age. Much as the future of such girls is ruined along the way, society remains indifferent. "We care about marriage mostly.

A girl must get married as soon as she attains puberty. If she does not, she risks getting pregnant and becoming a laughing stock in her community," says an elder, Shomvi Selemani. He admits to be aware of a government directive which orders parents and guardians to ensure all their children go to school, otherwise they would be charged in a court of law.

"Girls are a bit more problematic. If you do not rush for their marriage, you may end up hosting a class of babies at your homestead," says Selemani. In recognizing the welfare of the girl child, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 that declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls' rights and the unique challenges faced.

"Innovating for Girls' Education" was the theme of the second year. "While there has been significant progress in improving girls' access to education over the last two decades, many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right.

Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to safety-related, financial, institutional and cultural barriers," says the UN's declaration. In a research conducted by Child Dignity Programme in Coast Region and Dar es Salaam from 2007 to 2008, it was established that girls may be forced to drop out of school to get married, and are generally denied the opportunity to mature and make decisions over their own lives before getting married.

In the same research conducted at Mabibo area, Kinondoni in Dar es Salaam region, a girl aged 16 had her future determined without her consent. Her parents forced her to drop out of school and arranged for her to be married to a man aged 39.

Later, on, being a mother of girls only, her husband left her and decided to search for another wife. In 2003, in Tandale area in Dar es Salaam region, according to CDF, a girl aged 14 was forced to drop out of school and marry a rich man aged 40.

She became pregnant 10 months later but lost her baby who was infected with HIV. The husband believed that she was the source of the infection so he kicked her out of his house. The girl went home to her mother where she led a miserable life.

In recognition of the plight of a girl child and women as a whole, the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) has launched concerted efforts with Tanzania Women Lawyers Association, TGNP, Zanzibar Female Lawyers in an initiative named Gender Equality & Women Empowerment Programme (GEWE II) seeking to empower women and end their suffering.

The programme is being conducted in Dar es Salaam (Kinondoni and Ilala districts), Coast (Kisarawe), Lindi, Mtwara (Newala, Ruangwa), Mvomero (Morogoro). Activities are also taking place in Unguja (West District) and Pemba.

"While many people today are aware of the rights of women and girls, statistics show that these continue to be flouted, willingly," says an online women magazine. It encourages women to reject the attempt to silence them in their quest for equal opportunities and treatment with men.

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