This article was written in support of Human Rights Watch.

With 2 out of every 5 girls married before the age of 18, child marriage is deeply embedded in Tanzanian society and tradition.

The women in the family- including the mother of the bride and the bride herself- usually have no say in the decision. Marrying a daughter off is seen as a way of securing the family’s future; the groom’s family gives the father of the bride livestock or money in exchange for the girl.

But this means that child brides are treated like property, often beaten, tortured, and forced to do extremely strenuous manual labour. The bride’s parents often tell her to persevere through it, much like they themselves did. Girls are treated like property.

Human Rights Watch conducted extensive interviews with Tanzanian girls and women about child marriage, numerous rights abuses associated with it, the risks involved if the girls refuse, and the gaps in the child protection system.

“They can just beat you left right and centre because they have paid for you,” says Dr. Helen Kijo Bisimba of the Legal and Human Rights Centre. “How can you sell your child?”

Girls’ education is the only way out to end this vicious cycle.

Unfortunately, most girls are not allowed to continue their studies once they are married. Even if they want to continue studying, girls who get married or pregnant while still in school are routinely expelled by schools. The Tanzanian government does little to stop it.

What’s more horrifying is the fact that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a rampant cultural practice, used as a way to control girls’ sexuality, prevent premarital sex and pregnancy, and protect the family’s honour. When a girl undergoes FGM, she is often respected in society, and is considered pure. It is considered a rite of passage to prepare young girls for marriage. Despite the fact that FGM is recognised as a form of violence against women, nearly 8 million girls in Tanzania have undergone this procedure.

The Tanzanian government has implemented certain policies that, in theory, aim to curb practices related to child marriage. It has criminalized rape, sexual exploitation of children, and FGM. While it has set the age of sexual consent at 18 years, it has failed to set a uniform minimum marriageable age of 18 for boys and girls. Tanzanian law also permits child marriage and has no comprehensive law on domestic abuse.

As Koshuma Mtengeti, Executive Director of Children’s Dignity Forum says in the interview, “there is no mechanism to protect girls.”


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