Shinyanga tackles child marriages through advocacy, mobilisation

04Nov 2018
By Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Shinyanga tackles child marriages through advocacy, mobilisation

GLOBAL statistics on early marriages shows that Tanzania is among leading countries with high prevalence of early marriages (World Health Organization 2016).

A ‘mother,’ who is clearly a child herself, cradles her baby. PHOTO: File

In this report, Tanzania was stated as the third country in Africa with high prevalence of early pregnancies and early marriages (28 per cent.) According to the Tanzania Population and Health Census (TDHS, 2010) about 37 per cent of female children get into marriage before the age of 18.

A study by UNFPA also indicates that 2 female children out of 5 enter into early marriage before they reach 18 years. TGNP Mtandao , through their established Knowledge Centres across Tanzania, in collaboration with the government and other stakeholders, have been in the forefront to ensure early pregnancies among schoolgirls in Kishapu district, Shinyanga region, were eliminated.

Speaking to this paper in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a workshop organised by TGNP Mtandao in Dar es Salaam this week, Fredina Makeleja (48) from Negezi village, Ukenyenge ward in Kishapu district, Shinyanga region, said their Knowledge Centre, after recognising that child pregnancies were becoming a major challenge among schoolgirls in their area, decided to take some steps to mitigate it.

“Through advocacy and mobilisation in collaboration with government leaders and other stakeholders in our respective areas, we met with parents and guardians to find a solution to the problem,” she said.

“We also met religious leaders, traditional leaders, ward councillor, the police, health centre officers and teachers to find a lasting solution to the pregnancy problem among our schoolgirls,’ she added.

Luckily, the district commissioner also supported their initiative. Meanwhile, they are carrying out education awareness on the negative impacts of early pregnancies to schoolgirls, boys, parents and the entire community.

Makeleja says the education awareness given is meant to support and train those working with girls to de-stigmatise conversations about sexuality.

It means encouraging parents to reflect on how they relate to their children and what lessons they learn from them about relationships.

Most importantly, it means finding ways to affirm girls so that they can pursue pleasurable, respectful and safe relationships. To make their efforts effective they have laid down by-laws that force everyone in their community to become a guardian and protector of their schoolgirls against boyfriends who would pay for school supplies and food in return for the girls’ affection.

“Because of low awareness, a lot of girls are lured with small gifts, and that is how they end up pregnant,” she said. For her part, Angelina Mahona (31) from Ukenyenge in Kishapu district concurred with Makeleja by calling for joint efforts to eliminate schoolgirls’ pregnancies in their community.

She said as one of the ways to end early pregnancies among schoolgirls teachers at Ukenyenge Secondary School have been collaborating with our Knowledge Centre to educate students on issues concerning health and gender-based violence (GBV.)

“Hence, teachers in other locations are encouraged to borrow a leaf from here and start gender clubs to deal with GBV issues in their respective areas,” she pointed out.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF 2012), Shinyanga region leads in early marriages (59%), followed by Tabora (58%), Mara (55%), Dodoma (51%), and Lindi (48%).

According to government data, the number of pregnancies in girls aged between 15 and 19 years continues to rise – increasing from 23% in 2010 to 27% in 2015. This is higher than it was 20 years ago.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated that one in six girls aged between 15 and 19 years became pregnant. In Tanzania, if you’re a schoolgirl and fall pregnant, it could mean the end of your education. Schooling in Tanzania, as in other parts of the world, is viewed as a way to secure a better future.

Girls are acutely aware of poverty and the challenges they must contend with in a patriarchal society. They feel family pressure to succeed from families that must cover the expense of uniforms, books, examination charges and tutoring. But poor quality teaching makes academic success extremely difficult.

Speaking during the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, 2018, Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ummy Mwalimu was quoted as saying that the government had committed to end female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and teenage pregnancies.

“The government is committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls reflected by their signatory to several international treaties and the far-reaching National Plan of Action to End Violence against Women and Children (2017/18 - 2021/22), and progress is being made.

“The prevalence of FGM has decreased from 18 per cent to 10 per cent among Tanzanian women aged 15 to 49. Child marriage statistics, however, remain high with one in three Tanzanian girls marrying before the age of 18,” Mwalimu said.

At the platform the minister directed all heads of primary and secondary schools to keep a record of girls who drop out of school due to early marriage and teenage pregnancy, noting:

“Education is the best way to change the life of the girl child for the better.” The minister also directed regional and district hospitals to allocate a special unit at their facilities to ensure survivors of gender and child-related violence are treated promptly, adding that no fees were to be paid by such patients.

She emphasized that the government would not hesitate to deregister any doctor who refused to treat children and women who had experienced sexual violence.

Deputy Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender and Children, Dr. Faustine Ndugulile unveiled the government plan to establish additional one-stop centres in areas where there is a high prevalence of FGM where police, health and psychological services will be available to survivors of gender-based violence.

He reiterated the government’s commitment to establish gender and children’s desks at all police stations across the country. There are currently 420 desks.

He also called on district administrative secretaries from those regions with the highest prevalence of FGM, child marriage and teenage pregnancies to establish special committees to protect women and girls.

Shinyanga Regional Commissioner Zainabu Terack said that in ensuring that gender-based violence was halted in her region, they had prohibited all students from visiting music halls and traditional dances, among other things.

At the same time, women have been requested not to send their children to participate in entrepreneurial activities as there is always a risk of children to be lured by unfaithful customers to engage in sex.

This can easily lead to early pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

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