In Tanzania, more than one in three girls are married before the age of 18. Child marriages prevent girls from completing their education, and can lead to adverse mental and physical health consequences. But in one region of the country, the rural province of Arusha, authorities are cracking down on child marriages — and ensuring girls go back to school in 2018.
An estimated 80 school-aged girls have been spared from child marriages by the authorities, according to the region’s education department, Tanzania Daily News reports. According to the report, the marriages were “dissolved,” and 36 parents or relatives were taken into custody.
“In many of the cases, we discovered that the girls’ parents or guardians had already received ‘fat dowries’ from prospective suitors,” Arusha regional education officer, Mwalimu Gift Kyando, told the Daily News. “Traditional ceremonies are what remained before the girls were handed over [as] ‘brides’ to their future ‘grooms.’”
In recent years, Tanzania has strengthened its child marriage laws in an effort to curb the practice. In July of last year, the country’s Constitutional Court made child marriage illegal, overwriting a 1971 law that had allowed girls as young as 14 to marry with parental consent. It also made marriage with a primary or secondary girl punishable with up to 30 years in prison, the Huffington Post reported.
However, this September, Tanzania’s Attorney General George Masaju appealed the ruling to end child marriage, saying the High Court had “erred.”
In Tanzania, school teachers must also provide quarterly reports on child marriages to the Commissioner of Education, following an amendment to the country’s Education Act.
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According to statistics from a national survey on child marriage released in February, child marriage is still prevalent in some rural regions of the country — with more than half of all girls aged 20-24 married before 18 in Shinyanga, Tabora and Mara provinces. This is due to entrenched local customs, high rates of poverty, and a lack of educational resources, the report indicated.
Campaigners against child marriage in East Africa, and Tanzania specifically, have called on local actors to address the structural causes of child marriage. Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number five: gender equality. You can join us and call on the Tanzanian government to implement the High Court’s decision here.
“Unless the general population is sufficiently enlightened to reject outdated traditional customs and the government puts in place effective strategies to alleviate poverty, we can hardly solve this problem,” Hellen-Kijo Bisimba, a women’s rights campaigner, told Thompson Reuters Foundation last year, after child marriage was ruled unconstitutional.
The most recent report out of Tanzania is an encouraging sign that local authorities are following through on these national directives.
According to the report in the Tanzania Daily News, six of the 80 girls rescued from child marriage were taken into “special education centers” because their home environments were not “conducive” to their continuing education.
The report also notes that more than 15,000 girls in total will go on to receive a secondary education in the region — many of them coming from rural environments where girls are rarely educated.