October 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, and October 25 Tanzania will run Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The presidential elections, in particular, will or will not be the closest ever, depending on which poll one prefers, but one thing is clear: youth matters. According to the 2012 Census, of the close to 45 million people living in Tanzania, 44.1 percent of the population is `young’, under fifteen, and 35.1 percent are `youth’, 15 – 35 years old. 79.2 percent of Tanzanians are young or youthful. The future is now.
Perhaps it’s the young and the restless or the elections, or maybe the prospect of a new constitution which could expand the rights of women and girls, or perhaps reflecting on the International Day of the Girl Child that has Tanzania’s Daily News running a series of articles encouraging its readers to get serious about ending child marriage now.
For a variety of reasons, the rates of `child marriage’ in Tanzania are famously high, although according to some they have been descending slowly over the past decade. Just about every year, a `major’ study reports on the situation of `child marriage’ and `girl-brides’ in Tanzania. In 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights published Forced Out: Mandatory Pregnancy Testing and the Expulsion of Pregnant Students in Tanzanian Schools, which documented the catastrophic nexus of “forced, early marriage”, “adolescent pregnancy”, and expulsion from school and from all its current and future benefits. Last year, Human Rights Watch published No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania, and last month, HRW testified, “Although rates of child marriage have decreased, the number of girls marrying remains high. Four out of 10 girls are married before their 18th birthday. Some girls are as young as 7 when they are married.” More recently, the Fordham International Law Journal published, “Ending female genital mutilation & child marriage in Tanzania.”
All three studies, and many more, have relied on the work and insight of Tanzanian organizations, such as the Children’s Dignity Forum; Chama Cha Uzazi na Malezi Bora Tanzania (UMATI); and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Tanzania. These organizations work with the Tanzania Women Parliamentary Group; the Tanzania Media Women’s Association; the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme; and Tanzania Youth for Change. Many of these groups, in particular the Children’s Dignity Forum, work closely with the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD), an African Diaspora women’s campaign and support organization. In 2013, FORWARD and the Children’s Dignity Forum co-authored, Voices of Child Brides and Child Mothers in Tanzania: A PEER Report on Child Marriage.
In other words, in Tanzania as elsewhere, women and girls, and some men and boys too, have been researching, mobilizing, advocating, circulating petitions, rewriting laws, organizing peer groups, and raising a ruckus for quite some time. Will this year be the year? The editors of the Daily News seem to think so, as they suggest in a recent editorial, “Yes, child marriages can be stopped.” Will child marriages be stopped as a result of the elections and the incoming president and parliament? Is the time for new approaches finally here? Will this be the year of the girl child in Tanzania? Stay tuned.