Human Rights 13 January 2017 9 7204
In Tanzania, it is against the law to marry underage girls. The punishment for those responsible – the husband and the parents of the bride who allowed the wedding to happen – is up to 30 years in prison. Nevertheless, there are families who continue to follow the tradition and attempt to marry their daughters off when they’re as young as 12 or 13 years old. An early marriage means the parents will no longer have to take care of the girl and will receive cows in exchange. Cows are a staple of Tanzanian village life and some consider them more valuable than their own daughters.
Local authorities and activists are working to prevent child marriages, often interrupting such weddings. Rescued girls are taken to a shelter, where they receive schooling, many for the first time in their lives. Families who hope to marry off their daughters early don’t send them to school, as they believe an educated wife is likely to be opinionated and disobedient. So she won’t be worth so much in cows.
Many girls here, such as Kristina and Agness, both 13, were saved from marrying older men during their weddings, while 16-year-old Leokodia escaped her husband after years of abuse. Numerous parents and grooms have either been imprisoned or are on the run. Local activist Paulo is working on preventing such sad consequences for families. His mission is to convince people that daughters can be more useful when they’re educated. They can get a good job instead of being traded at a young age for a few cows. He has his own example to back it up – his daughter received an education and now works and helps her father financially.