Source: AllAfrica
WHEN she was 13 years old, Margreth Kibasa was married off to a 40 year old man, dashing her hope of joining secondary school and eventually becoming someone important in society.

Margreth who is now 18 years old, did not know who to turn to for assistance as traditions require that she obeys decisions by elders. She had just completed her class seven national exams and unfortunately, her father shortly later passed away.

She was against the idea, but like any little girl, obedience was important, so she went along, like a sheep to the slaughter house. Her mother, overwhelmed by her husband siblings' demands, went along with the idea of marrying off Margreth.

After marriage rituals and ceremony were completed the two journeyed to Dar es Salaam where she started her new life as a married woman at the age of 13. Margreth had no idea what was waiting for her in her new matrimonial home. She experienced violence at the hands of her new husband to an extent that a good neighbour stepped in and helped her to escape.

"The neighbour, an older woman had seen what was happening, the beatings I was experiencing almost on daily basis. One day she asked me if I wanted to go home, and I quickly jumped to the idea," Margreth explained.

The neighbour bought her a ticket back to Tarime. Although her mother welcomed her back, she was fearful of what her husband's brothers would do to both of them.

However, once Margreth narrated the ordeal to her she went through in the hands of the husband, her mother agreed to let her stay and went on to report to the police, in case her husband's siblings came by and tried to force her to go back to her abusive husband.

When Margreth left her husband she had no idea she was pregnant. She now has a five year old child and she went on to complete her O level studies. She has applied to various colleges to study social studies so she can help girls facing similar predicaments.

Marriage is a choice made by two consenting adults, but adulthood is viewed differently in many societies, which is why children are forced into marriages at a tender age. Child marriage is a global problem that impedes the development, wellbeing and life options of the affected individuals.

In the past ten years child marriage has emerged as one of the most neglected human rights violations and only recently started receiving new attention. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that in the next decade 100 millions girls are expected to marry before they are 18 years old.

In Africa over 42 per cent of girls are married before they attain 18 years, with millions of girls being given away just before they attain puberty. According to UNFPA, 31 out of 41 countries where the prevalence of rates of child marriages is more than 30 per cent are African countries.

In Tanzania child marriage is still legal and over 37 per cent of girls between 20 - 24 years were married before they attained 18 years, while in Kenya the rate is at 26 per cent, Uganda 46 per cent and Rwanda is 8 per cent. There are several forms of child marriage, including informal unions, betrothals, marriages to gods and marriage by abductions and normally bride price forms a major part of the marriage negotiations.

A two day East Africa regional conference on the problem on Child Marriages that concluded recently showed that girls married early are more likely to experience violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. It was also noted that marital rape is not criminalized in the country, rendering child brides even more vulnerable at a greater risks of HIV/Aids infection.

Married girls aged between 15 to 24 years are more likely to be HIV positive than unmarried counterparts in the same age brackets. Other problems related with child marriage include being at risk of maternal mortality and morbidity.

In her paper during the conference, titled 'Child Marriage situation analysis: Making a case for ending child marriage in East Africa, the Executive Director of Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD) Ms Naana Otoo-Oyortey said factors fuelling the vice includes poverty, traditions norms, gender inequalities and lack of education.

The Director of Child Development in the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children Ms Tukae Njiku explaines that teenage pregnancies remain a big challenge in the country and governments plan of retaining the girls in schools after giving birth is facing resistance from religious and some parents.

"On average two out of five girls will be married before they reach their 18th birthday, most of the children are forced into these marriages," she explained.

The Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) Executive Director Ms Valerie Msoka said child marriages is a big problem in the country and the whole community needs to work together to address child marriages. Ms Msoka explained that there is a need for intense public education on the matter so that both men and women should feel responsible to report to authorities cases of child marriages.

She explained that while child marriages is common in the country, p revalence is highest in some regions including Shinyanga (59 per cent), Tabora (58 per cent), Mara (55 per cent), Dodoma (51 per cent), Lindi (48 per cent), Mbeya (45 per cent) and Morogoro (42 per cent).

"Child marriages is a severe form of gender discrimination that affects young girls and stops them from pursuing education and making them vulnerable to HIV/Aids," she explained.

Ms Valerie Msoka stressed the importance of government to embark on a campaign to educate the public, especially those poorest and living in rural areas on harmful effects of child marriages. In her paper titled 'A new constitution and the opportunity for amending the Minimum age of Marriage, Women Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) Representative Ms Grace Diffa said there is still a chance for gaps that are missing in the first draft of the new constitution to be filled.

She expressed sadness that Tanzania, today still has laws that perpetrate gender inequalities and oppression, including child marriage. "The only way to change this, to ensure gender equality and the rights of children are respected in societies is through the new constitution.

This is an opportunity to ensure that the new constitution addresses the issues of women and children," she explained. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Programme Officer Ms Anna Holmstrom -Mgone said there is work being done to increase access to information, to help end child marriage in the country.

Mr Homstrom-Mgone said the support is through organizations helping women and children including the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), that focus on media response to child marriages and Female Genital Mutilations (FGM).

"Support is also extended to alternative rites programmes for at risk girls in prevalence areas such as Mara region," she explained. With such efforts from different quarters including Nongovernmental organizations, it will be joyous to see girls like Margreth get a chance to decide when they want to get married, after completing their education.


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