In Tanzania, 4 out of 10 girls are married before they reach the age of 18.
Burdened with one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world, Tanzania is one of the countries most affected by this practice – whether it happens for reasons of poverty, lack of opportunity, or custom.
While Tanzania has achieved progress toward gender equality under the UN Millennium Development Goals, my years of reporting have shown that women and girls continue to struggle for access to health care. Especially in rural areas, maternal care lags behind.
UNICEF statistics show that about 8,000 women in Tanzania die each year – 22 every day – due to preventable pregnancy-related problems.
Early marriage and childbirth can also contribute to a raft of health issues that may affect women throughout their lives.
My radio story will look at how and why early marriage continues to thrive in Tanzania. Most important, why do parents not understand the effects of marrying off their children, girls especially, at a young age?
I plan to cover this topic with audio reports based on interviews with girls and women in the Mwanza district on the shore of Lake Victoria, as well as government officials, community welfare officers, teachers, village officials, health workers, and experts.
The harm caused by early marriage often includes depriving a young woman of her basic right to education and the possibility of achieving her childhood dreams. Physically, sex and childbirth at an early age can lead to serious infections, fistulas, and even permanent disability.
Women who wait to give birth until they are over 18 experience fewer pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, a 2017 in-depth study by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health found.
The same study concluded that poverty is the main driver of early marriage: “Poor families who are unable to pay school fees or take care of their children often resort to marriage, seeing it as a form of economic and social protection. The bride price that parents receive upon marriage – often paid in cattle and cash – is also seen as a strategy to reduce poverty.”
These problems are compounded for young parents in rural areas where health service delivery is poor and access to clinics is hampered by long distances and poor infrastructure. As a result, pregnant women often seek help during labor from unqualified personnel, a practice which can lead to health complications.
Early marriages are established in the Tanzanian community. In many Tanzanian cultures, early marriage is seen as a means of protecting girls against premarital sex and marital infidelity – stains on her character that can damage the family’s status. Marrying young is also seen as a way for families and their daughters to gain financial security.
The government has thrown its support behind a wider African Union initiative to end child marriage across the continent. Yet, a law adopted in 1971 and still in force permits girls to marry at 15 with parental consent, while boys cannot marry until they are 18.
My goal is to find out what contributes to early marriages, what are the consequences and serious violations of human rights related to childhood marriages, and the risks facing girls who resist the pressure to marry too young.
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