Sixteen Days of Activism: Lamentation of a child wife

16Dec 2018
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Sixteen Days of Activism: Lamentation of a child wife

SIXTEEN days of activism is time to remind ourselves and increase efforts to combat and end violence against women and girls all over the world.

These 16 days are also an opportunity to increase awareness about gender-based violence, challenge discriminatory attitudes and call for improved laws and services to end violence against women and girls for good.

For Tanzania, among the victims of gender-based violence are girls because of the patriarchal system that we have inherited, the perpetuation of harmful traditions, prevalence of gender inequality, outdated and conflicting laws and, sometimes, lack of political will that has made the boy child more favored than the girl child.

The political, economic and social systems have yet to show by word and deed their support to the welfare of the girl child.
As we commemorate these 16 Days let's hear the plight of our girls and maybe this will lead to action being taken.

“No one had told me I would become sick. No one told me that my brother was more important than me. No one told me I was a negotiable commodity. Most of all, no one had told me that because I am a girl, I could not have dreams. But I had them.

“As I sweep the compound, put the fire on and pour water into the pot, I am singing. I do not mind the morning chores before going to school. In the morning my friends and I always run so that we are not late.

“Coming back is when we have time to talk, sometimes to fight and play. This usually makes getting home late but the fun is worth the noise that Mama makes.

“But I am fast, so as soon as I arrive I will go and fetch water to ensure all the barrels are full and start helping Mama with the evening meal. It is always a good time because I have Mama to myself.

“One evening, as we were preparing our evening meal Mama told me that something really good was about to happen to our family. I waited as mother takes her time when she has news.

‘“You know my daughter if there is something a child can give her parents, it is the respect of being married. When a man comes to a family to propose marriage it is an honour that has been paid to the family.”’

“I know that and tell Mama so. And then she tells me that Taaban’s relatives had come to seek my hand in marriage and that Baba had accepted.

“I stood up and told my Mama that I could not believe she could accept such a thing. She knew I dreamt of being a doctor. She knew I wanted to work in our village to take care of all the sick people.

“She knew that was my dream. She knew that Taaban was old but rich in cows and he had no male child. I started crying and went out. I sat outside thinking of what mother had said and that it meant I had to forget my dreams.

“Why could they not wait for me to attain my dreams? I did not eat that night. In the morning Mama tried speaking to me but I did not respond.

“The next day after school I went to my aunt’s house and told her what my Mama had told me. She was so happy she started dancing and showing me how she would dance on the wedding day.

“I told her I wanted to continue going to school. She told me I should stop being stupid, that a woman’s place is at her husband’s side. She asked me how I could compare schooling to having a husband.

“I told her I was only 14. She said she was married at the same age and she had six strong children. Without my aunt’s support I knew the marriage would go ahead.

“On the eve of my wedding I asked my brother Mapambano if he thought it was fair that I stop going to school to get married and he replied that it was not really fair but we should listen to our parents. I cried myself to sleep and have been doing so since then.

“Nobody had told me that I was not only going to be married to Taaban but also to his whole family. I was told to be obedient, humble and hardworking and not to bring shame to the family.

“In Taaban’s extended family of more than twelve, I was among the youngest. So, not only was I a wife but the one who did the errands and everything else. The food had to be on time and I also had to ensure that I went to the farm. While errands and farming I knew how, I did not know about Taaban wanting to sleep with me every night.

“He had beaten me very well on our first night. For two days I was limping with everyone in the compound watching. After all they had heard my screams on the wedding night. On the third day, instead of going to the farm, I ran to my parents’ house.

“I asked Baba to return the cows and I would even look for work so that I buy him some. Baba beat me even better than Taaban and told me to return to where I had come from.

“I ran back crying. And Taaban did some more beating of his own. And that night I was so tired from running and the beating that I asked him to let me sleep and he beat me for being a disobedient wife. The next day, I could not go to the farm or to fetch water.

“My mother-in-law came to my hut to tell me that I was a lazy wife. At fifteen I still had no child. By then I had turned into a witch because I had not been able to conceive.

“By then I knew how to manage my day from very early in the morning to when everyone else was asleep. I could cook for a family of 15 like a professional. I hardly knew when it was Monday or Sunday. I was a walking, working machine. I had no friends and being a witch anyone in the family could slap me, pinch me or push me.

“Taaban was thinking about taking another wife and then I spoilt it by getting pregnant. But while there should have been joy, there was more beating because Taaban did not believe that he was responsible. He said I had been sleeping with someone else. So that pregnancy went away after one good beating.

“When I was very tired I would steal away and sit on the side of the house and still dream dreams of going to medical school and discussing how best to look after children. Then someone would come and kick me and tell me my mother-in-law, sister-in-law or Taaban was calling or there was no water in the barrels or the firewood had gone low.

“So I would get up and run and do what needed to be done. Being late meant a beating and I’m so thin the bones are painful when hit.

“My friend from school days saw me last week and she asked me what had happened to me and I said marriage, that I was being beaten nearly every day for not being a good wife. She told me to run away. I asked her to where? She had no answer either.

“I got pregnant again. And this time the baby was stubborn and did not come out when I was beaten.

“But it was not one, there were two. When it was time for them to come out it was painful and took loooong. More painful than when Taaban had started doing things on my body.

“Then they decided to take the babies out as my body could not push them out. I had to remain in the hospital for a week, which allowed me some rest. And because of my tiredness after the birth and not being a dutiful wife, Taaban married a new wife.

“One day I was sitting outside with my children I heard on the news that they were discussing child marriage in parliament and some members were saying the Law of Marriage 1971 should be changed.

“And then others said the issue needs to be considered carefully and rushing it would be opening a Pandora’s box. Who is Pandora and why is her box being used as an excuse for my suffering? Have my leaders met a girl like me? A girl who used to get the highest marks in class?

“A girl who had sung in church because I was always happy as my name Furaha denotes. I had dreams that I spoke of and which I believed I could attain. Do they know that as they discuss more girls are getting married and suffering?

“That I am among the 35 girls out of every hundred who got married before 18 years of age?

“I am a child. Do those discussing know that because my body was not fully formed, having children has caused me complications such as tiredness that does not want to leave my body; that I am physically drained, that I sometimes want to kill myself and the twins?

“That I never finished school, which is a fundamental human right; that I have no friends, young or old, to talk to? I want to play but that is not what married women do; but when the married women talk I am told I am too young to be part of the group, so I am neither a child nor a mature woman.

“I am a child. Do my leaders know that we look up to them to make decisions that are beneficial? That we look up to them for our protection so that we can achieve our dreams?

“Why are they scared instead of being courageous? Why are they being timid instead of being bold and taking action? Why are they looking for excuses for not taking action and instead being more concerned at getting votes? What is inside this Pandora’s box that makes them scared?

“I look at my children and wonder whether their lives will be better. I’m sure of my son Kulwa, but what of my daughter Doto? Will she be loved and protected?

Will they open that Box and change that Law as well as put in place mechanisms to ensure children do not get married early as well as mechanisms to help girls like myself, such as a place to run to when beaten and tired, a place to run to get help in looking after babies, a place to find peace, safety and sleep, a place to laugh and not cry; a place where maybe…maybe, will allow for one to achieve her dream?

“I look at my children. I silently plead to my family, community and all my leaders to take care of my children, ensuring that Dotto is not married off before 18, and should it happen, her relatives are severely punished.

“After all they deserve to be punished as my babies Kulwa and Doto will have no mother to look after them. Please, don’t continue using boxes, laws, religion, tradition as an excuse to deny my daughter the chance denied to me to achieve my dreams. Child marriage is unacceptable, inexcusable and intolerable. Please.”

The writer is a journalist and chair of the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN)