22 July 2011

Aspirations of child brides - FORWARD study in Tanzania

Somewhere between finger painting and applying for college, adolescence is a critical period when individuals discover who they are how they might like to earn a living. However, adolescents are vulnerable to environmental influences including peers, media, culture and especially parents and family.

Most countries have declared 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage. However, in Africa 42% marry before this age (ranging from 11-88%, depending on the area). In Ethiopia and some areas of West Africa, some girls marry as early as 7 years old.

Child marriage is deemed a violation of human rights,compromising the development of girls and often resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation. It involves one or both spouses being children andmay take place without registration. Child marriage is used to ‘build or strengthen family alliances, and can include betrothals of children or babies. nd can include betrothals of children or babies. To find out more about global policy action on ending child marriage, click here

A forced marriage is one conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties, and under physical or emotional duress. One ten year old child bride states “When I was 10, my parents arranged for me to marry in the forest. They pretended it was just a party. But it was a wedding and they sent me away by force. I cried but it didn’t make any difference”. UNFPA predict from 2005-2015, 100 million ‘girls’ will marry.

This month, Affoue Yobouet, 17, a mother of two says she doesn’t regret choosing marriage over education. She says marrying an older man (age 50) was the best option for obtaining financial security. She dropped out of school at 13, and now lives with 30 relatives. However, her older sister Beatrice Yobouet, hoped she would not follow her own life’s pattern. She has four children, and has been abandoned by three men. She is trying to rebuild her life – but wishes she – and Affoue – had stayed in school.

FORWARD has just carried out a participatory ethnographic evaluation research (PEER) with 24 volunteers (peer researchers) in Tarime district, Tanzania. All were child brides, now aged 16-24 years. Each girl carried out interviews with friends, covering daily life, child marriage and FGM. The girls captured their ‘life’ (farming, collecting wood, firewood and labour) and traditional activities (dancing and brewing beer). They also shared traditional practices: FGM (reasons, myths, religion and experience) and child marriage (bride price; age/consent; power/violence; and polygamy). All of this was captured in photographs, drama, drawings and discussions.

Some of the findings give a harrowing picture of life “ people take the brew (beer) to reduce stress and be merry. If one drinks too much he can rape adults or children”; “Women do most of the work because men feel they paid dowry for them”; “Most girls have FGM when they are 10 so many get married early”; “I didn’t go to school as my father saw it as no use for a girl. So after FGM I was married off”. These quotes show the interconnection of male power, violence, traditional practice and forced marriage. This cycle can be broken, at any point, but can a 10 year old girl change her destiny?

So, what were the aspirations of these child brides? Their dreams were to go back to school, finish their education, gain financial security and independence similar to any child with interrupted schooling. The careers they wish for included being a magistrate, nurse or business women – so similar to my own childhood dreams of being a surgeon, physio or teacher. Programmes of education against FGM and child bride girls clubs can once again make those dreams come true.