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Human Rights Watch (HRW), the well-known organization dedicated to advocating and protecting human rights internationally, released on 29th October 2014 a brand new report that shades a light on the traditional custom of child marriage in the United Republic of Tanzania.
The 93-pages report briefs the public on how deep this practice goes into the Tanzanian society and how widely is accepted across the rural population of this country. The report further denounces this practice by pointing out the extreme challenges faced by all those girls who find themselves forced into it, and by recommending to local and national institutions crucial measures aimed at putting an end to this controversial custom.
The United Republic of Tanzania is one of the 21 African countries that on 7th December 2013 in Cape Town set the ambitious target to achieve the elimination of child marriage by 2020. The ministerial commitment recognizes the cross-cutting nature of child marriage and contains a more comprehensive strategy aimed at “ensuring quality, comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services for young people across Eastern and Southern Africa” .
While the existence of child marriage in rural areas is certainly rooted in ancient customs and beliefs, analyzing the legal background of the subject helps to understand why this custom is still widely practiced. No specific legal action has been taken against child marriage, neither at local nor at national level and there is still no clear internal plan or policy to eradicate this habit from the society. As the report states, in fact, neither the National Action Plan nor the National Roadmap Strategic Plan to Accelerate Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Deaths in Tanzania envisage any specific action against child marriage. If we further analyze the legal framework, according to the Marriage Act (1971) a 15-year-old girl can legally marry a man/ boy of at least 18-year-old. Concerning rape cases, the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act criminalizes rapes and foresees measures against children exploitation, but does not criminalize rape if the girl is legally married with the rapist and at least aged 15.
The report singles out the different elements contributing to child marriage and the durable impact on young girl’s lives. HRW researchers have pointed out payment of dowry, limited access to education, child labor and adolescent pregnancy as the main causes contributing to child marriage. Generally the payment of the dowry is a key element since it gives the parents a major financial incentive to force their daughters into early marriage whilst ensuring the future husband an effective pretext to exercise an unjustifiable control (easily turned into violence) over his young wife. In most cases child marriage and adolescent pregnancy force girls to drop out of school and generally exclude them from any education opportunity. The barrier created between girls and education is a long-lasting one and is almost impossible to overcome. It is important to remind that running away and coming back home is not an option: once the dowry is paid it cannot be returned.
The goal of eliminating child marriage by 2020 is noble and the fact that 21 countries committed to it gives hope to all those girls still being forced to marriage. Nevertheless, the first steps must be made at local level, through the empowerment of local institutions and communities, with the common aim of improving girls access to education and setting clear penalties and punishments for acts of violence against girls.
Head picture: © Jessica Lea / UK Department for International Development
Francesco holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Turin University (Italy) and he’s majoring in Development Studies from the same academic institution. He dedicated the last three years of his life to humanitarian field projects in Eastern Africa especially throughout the Great Lakes Region, where he had the opportunity to work on inclusive education programs for children with disabilities and special needs as well as vocational training projects for disadvantaged youth. Francesco now lives in northern Burundi where he works as a Logistics Manager in a District Hospital.