Source: All Africa
PLEDGE by the government to offer free secondary school education for all comes amid serious call by activists for elimination of unbefitting traditions of paying bride price to unborn children.

Although the practice sounds out-of-date, recent studies have confirmed continuation of the tradition in some parts of the Lake Zone.

The habit contradicts the government's commitment to access education to all children. The academic future of girls is ruthlessly shuttered even before birth.

When addressing diplomats accredited to Tanzania and Heads of Diplomatic Mission and International Organisations at the State House last Friday, President Jakaya Kikwete said by 2016 secondary education will be accessible to all pupils as the aim is to give a chance to the children to excel in their talents.

Investigation conducted by journalists towards end of last year in Rukwa region under the auspices of the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) reveals that livestock keepers, the Sukuma in particular who have migrated to the region, pay bride price to the family of expecting mothers.

It is assumed that a baby girl would be born to the family and therefore destined for early marriage. This implies that a section of the same community that the government is determined to commit resources for a boost in literacy, still dwells in 'darkness' denying girls the right to education.

In this community (Sukuma), education for girls is a thing of the past. Some of the herders take women as objects of pleasure and the misconduct is no longer considered a serious crime but ordinary occasions. Weddings for young girls are not celebrated in the hide.

Sometimes conducted to the knowledge of authorities Several cases of bride price payment to unborn babies have been reported in Nkasi District, Rukwa Region among Sukuma pastoralists.

Concerned parties call for serious engagement to change the mindset of herders to use the wealth (thousands of cattle) in their possession for development of the country including support of their children in education.

Nevertheless, free education offer announced by the government effective next year may not bring changes to this community unless deliberate measures are taken to stop the practice.

Skolastika Milambo, (40), resident of Lunyala village, says it is common among the Sukumas to pay bride price for unborn girls. Marrying off young girls is equally rampant in this area. Lunyala village is characterised of habitation of Sukuma pastoralists.

"Young girls at the age of 10 are married off to older men without their consent because the bride price had already been paid before they were born or at infancy," Skolastika explains.

Shamelessly, the family of the would-be husband, she adds, discuss with the girl's family to agree on the amount of dowry to be paid. The amount ranges between 15 and 60 cows depending on the complexion of the skin. Light-skin-girls fetch more bride price.

Margareth Nkana, (32), says the Sukuma pay bride price to unborn girls through assumption that the pregnant mother was carrying a baby girl.

In case a baby boy is born to the family the 'deposited' gifts were not returned but reserved for possible next delivery of a baby girl. "The tradition is strange.

It must be discouraged at any cost. There are thousands of innocent talented girls whose future is blocked unnecessarily by parents or guardians who do not see the importance of education. They must be pushed hard to change their mindset and comply with the national drive on education for all.

The importance of education cannot be compromised," Margareth insists. Lunyala Village Executive Officer, Edgar Nkoswe confirms perpetuation of the practice saying that Sukumas married off the young girls and it was difficult to control the vice as they lived in remote isolated villages," Nkoswe explains "The whole process (bride price agreement) is conducted in a secret manner.

Some of the girls are married off at the age of seven. Sometimes it happened that the suitors take the young girls to live with their mothers until they reach the age of puberty," Nkoswe sadly explains.

Nkasi District Social Welfare Officer, Oscar Mdenye expresses disapproval of such early marriages whereby young girls are forced to marry older men. The practice is common among the Sukuma and Fipa in Rukwa region.

"Worse still, the tradition is becoming popular even among non herders' ethnic groups in the region. Public rallies and community education are not adequate measures. Application of some kind of force is necessary to 'free girls from bondage'," Mndenye suggests.

Mndenye recalls one dramatic arrest in the area saying that through Gender and Children Desk in Nkasi District, one, Pius Jacob, resident of Chala village was arrested mid last year (2014) for taking two young sisters for his wives. Both were primary school pupils.

The youngest was 11 years old, Standard IV at Kabwe Primary School. Jacob was taken to police custody just a week after taking the girls to live with as second and third wives. Earlier he married to another 16-year-old girl from neighbouring village.

The mater was reported for court action but the judiciary system however, has not been prompt enough to discourage the practice. "Lack of cooperation or positive response among members of the community remains a serious challenge in the whole endeavour to protect the children from humiliation.

Dozens of early marriages happen but not reported. Nonetheless, in case of giving testimony, no serious attention shown by concerned authorities for a deserving redress," Mndenye concludes.

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