Source: The Citizen

By Salma SaidThe Citizen CorrespondentZanzibar. It is estimated that each minute about 19 girls under the age of 18 around the world are forced into marriage. The situation is worse among girls in Asia, where the prevalence of the problem is 46 per cent and in Sub Saharan Africa where it is at 38 per cent.

According to Plan International, an NGO that deals with children issues, more than 14 million girls get married before they reach their 18th birthday in Sub Saharan Africa. The problem is persistent in Chad, Niger and Mali. But the problem is also prevalent in Zanzibar despite the fact that the country, by large, observes Islamic traditions because a majority of its estimated one million inhabitants are Muslims.

A research conducted by the Tanzania Media Women Association (Tamwa), shows that early and forced marriages is a critical problem in Zanzibar. However, the report says that data obtained in the isles is very limited and hides the real situation because many people do not want to come out and publicly reveal their ordeals. And because the marriages are conducted in secrecy, it is very difficult to get more data.

According to the ministry of Education, in 2011 some 32 cases of forced marriages were recorded. But the ministry concedes that many cases are not reported to the law enforcement organs. Because the marriages are arranged by the families, no one complains. It is only in a few cases where some disgruntled members of the families or the girls themselves report such incidents.

Some of the people interviewed during the Tamwa research said that forced and early marriages should be fought because they disrupted the girls’ lives. Many young girls are denied their right to education and other basic things when forced into marriages.
According to reports and
data obtained from Tumbe and Micheweni primary schools in Micheweni District in Pemba, an average of 10 girls are removed from studies each year and forced to marry. 
In West and Unguja districts a total of 13 cases of early pregnancies were reported to the registrar in the Ministry of Education in 2011 alone. Some of the girls were impregnated while already in marriages.In North A District in Unguja, the problem of forced marriages is also more pronounced, according to its district commissioner Riziki Juma Simai. She acknowledged the existence of the problem but conceded that they were facing challenges in addressing it because only a few people reported such incidents.  

She noted that when a young girl conceives, her family settles the issue with the family of the man who has impregnated her and after dowry is arranged and paid everyone continues with their businesses while the young girl is forced to live with her new husband.
“Even if we (the government) get wind of such a thing, the families usually arrange a quick marriage such that when you want to take action you find that everything has been concluded... there are incidents during which we nullify the marriages but in many cases the elders are adamant,” she elaborates.
Ms Ashruna Haji from Pwani-Mchangani suburb in Unguja said she conceived when she was 16. “It was after the man lied to me that he would marry me. He truly married me after I became pregnant but our marriage lasted only six months. The man does not want to see me now... he doesn’t even care for the child,” she says.
Ms Mwanaisha Mwiga Faki, 16, a student from Chaani Village says she was drugged and raped. “When I woke up in the morning I felt serious pains in my private parts and realised later that I had conceived. Though my parents wanted the man to marry me, he refused and now I am a single mother of a one-month-old child,” she narrated.
Nachia Saidi Foum, also a young girl from Kivunge Village, says she was impregnated when she was 15 and her parents forced her to marry the man. She narrates that the man’s parents did not want the marriage and her parents decided to report the matter to the Police. 
Another girl, Nachum Zubeir, says she was raped when she was 16 and was impregnated. She got married but was divorced after only 15 days before the man married another woman. “No one did anything because the parents wanted the man to marry me and he did that. Divorce is part of our Islam traditions therefore no one saw anything wrong when the man decided to divorce me,” she says.
According to Zanzibar laws it is illegal to have sexual intercourse with a person aged under 18 years as a person of this age is considered a child. However, Zanzibar community has been raised under Islamic traditions which allow young people to get married after reaching 14 years. Because Islamic traditions are very strong and have been entrenched here, it is very hard for other legal entities to intervene in most cases of forced marriages. It is common for religious leaders to make a lot of noise when a marriage is nullified by other state organs because one of the involved parties is underage.
During the research by Tamwa some of the respondents noted that a section of religious leaders support early marriages. They noted that this was being used by some parents as an excuse to marry off their young daughters.
In addition to local laws, the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) also makes it illegal for persons under 18 years to be married.  
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that a marriage should take place only if there is consent of each party. The declaration further states that a child does not have the right to make a decision on the issue.
During the Tamwa research, respondents gave a number of reasons why young girls are married off. While on one hand parents are to be blamed for this, they said, there were other instances where the girls themselves ‘forced’ their parents to reach a decision to marry them off. In other cases, it is the children themselves who decided to get married, they said. 
In many occasions, parents decide to marry their children after they are impregnated.But there are some parents who believe that girls should not be educated as boys. They believe that a woman’s place is still in the kitchen and therefore they do not need to go to school.
Many girls are impregnated as a result of engaging in early sex. Young girls have sex without enough sexual education leading to unplanned pregnancies.
Plan International has also established that lack of gender equality was another factor forcing young girls into early marriages. The NGO notes that girls are discriminated in communities due to wrong beliefs and perceptions.
Poverty is another factor. Some parents marry off their young daughters for dowry, especially if the man has a lot of money. Where girls become sex workers, the family might decide to marry them off in order to avoid the shame.
But many people believe that some families break the laws on marriages without knowing it. There is no way these families are going to learn because the cases which reach the courts face a lot of hurdles and as a result many culprits go scot-free.
Increase in the number of divorces is one of the bad results of early marriages. Apart from this, young girls who marry at tender ages experience serious health problems, especially when they become pregnant.
Many have been infected with sexually-transmitted diseases including Aids. And because many young girls are not properly prepared, many of their marriages never last. 
Those who give birth are forced to cater for their children as single mothers.

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