Tanzania: Dar Girl Escapes Jaws of Forced Marriage By a Whisker

Child marriages are a thorn in the flesh the world over as they cut the dreams of many girls, throwing them into a vicious circle of poverty. And, with intensified campaigns against the social anomaly, some sections of the society turn a deaf ear to the voice of reason and succumb to the destructive forces of greed to marry off these girls.

With strengthened awareness on early and forced marriages among other forms of gender-based violence against girls, perpetrators seem not to be deterred, but instead counter the efforts by devising new approaches and tactics in trying to evade the long armof the law.

Normally, such stories are awash in rural areas where the jaws of poverty bite unabated, backward in terms of enlightenment and perpetrators believe they can easily get away with murder. But surprisingly and of all places, the 'Sunday News' came across a heart rending case of early marriage in Mwananyamala area in Dar es Salaam.

Sikujua (not her real name) escaped early and forced marriage by a whisker when information she got during GBV campaigns at her school saved her. The sixteen-year old orphan whose mother passed away when she was a toddler, followed her father when she was in class three at Mchangani Primary School in Mwananyamala, could not believe her luck. "

I grew up in the hands of my paternal grandmother. I was the only child of my mother, but my father had six children from several wives - each child had her mother," she narrated to the 'SundayNews,' last week.

Having finished Standard Seven in 2015 she was selected to join Salma Kikwete Secondary School. And, the first three days of Form Two studies (2017), marked a watershed in her life as the grandmother told her that she wasn't financially able to continue supporting her education.

This saw her education dream suffering a major blow and had no choice but to stay at home and wait for fate to take its own course. Subsequently, in December, last year, Sikujua, while she was still waiting for another chance to return to school, she received bad news.

Off all the things on earth, her guardian forced her to marry a street water vendor. When Sikujua resisted the move, the grandmother stood her ground, and wanted the wedding to continue by hook or crook. So, in line with accomplishing her agenda, the grandmother prepared the girl for marriage.

This is done by keeping her indoors as part of implementing Kwere-tribe culture. The practice is traditionally known as Mkoleni, whereby a girl stays indoors for not less than three months while being taught on how to become a good wife. According to her, Mkoleni signifies the girl's maturity and it normally ends with traditional dances which take place not less than three days before her wedding.

While still confined to the house, Sikujua added, the grandmother brought a man known as Mr Seif, introducing him as her husband-to-be; but the girl remained silent as a sign of rejecting the proposal. And, she was supposed to celebrate the forced marriage last Friday while still indoors and get out on Sunday to join her husband.

HOW SHE ESCAPED Despite the grandmother's directive that wedding preparations should remain a secret, Sikujua decided to break the ice when her sister visited them at the grandmother's house and found her indoors.

However, the sister overlooked the issue, supporting the grandmother that it was better for her to get married at an early age than getting unintended pregnancy. Fortunately, the sister went to the washroom and left her mobile phone behind.

Sikujua took advantage of the situation and used the opportunity to send a text message to her aunt (mother's sister). She asked the aunt to inform the near-by Mwananyamala-based organisation, WAJIKI, about the organised forced marriage.

She had remembered that during her school days, WAJIKI and other anti-GBV fighters regularly ran public awareness campaigns, including directing school children where to report whenever in trouble. The aunt responded immediately by informing WAJIKI Executive Director, Ms Janeth Mawinza who together with her colleagues and other relevant public authorities rushed to Sikujua's Mkoleni cerebrations, acting as invited guests.

Sindano Street Local Government Chairperson, Mr Haji Mnyaa confirmed the incidence; saying despite Sikujua's rejection, the wedding organising committee continued with the procedures.

Having seen that Sikujua wasn't ready to answer the religious leader's question over matrimony acceptance, but kept on crying instead, the committee shifted the proceedings to the near-by house to accomplish the mission.

According to Mr Mnyaa, Sikujua's step grandfather represented her while Seif's emissary (mshenga) was there on his behalf. The step grandfather answered the religious leader's marriage vows on her behalf (as wife) and then shook hands with the emissary (as husband), signifying that the wedding was now a done deal.

"It was during the beginning of the marriage procedures when we intervened and we appeared at the right time, because it was a must to stop the procedure before signing of marriage certificates; a difficult step to undo. We are so glad that we won the war," he said.

Mr Mnyaa pointed greed as one of the reasons behind Sikujua's forced marriage after the husband-to-be confirmed to have been charged 800,000/- and managed to pay 300,000/- as an advance. The remaining amount was to be released soon after marrying her.

Speaking to the 'Sunday News,' Kinondoni Regional Police Commander (RPC), Muliro Jumanne confirmed that the perpetrators of the act were being held at Oysterbay Police Station, adding that investigations on the matter were in good progress. However, the Kinondoni regional police boss refrained from divulging the number of the accused and whether they were bailed out or not.

"One important thing to know is that it is true that in collaboration with other stakeholders, we succeeded to save the girl from the forced marriage. Investigations are at an advanced stage and soon the file will be taken to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for further processes," ACP Murilo said.

Commenting on the scope of the problem in the District, Kinondoni Municipal Social Welfare Officer, Ms Agnes Mbussa said that, very few early marriage cases have been reported, but, other GBV cases on young females were still a major challenge.

She expressed surprise over Sikujua's incident, saying it wasn't expected in Dar es Salaam city, where public awareness campaigns on girls' rights are intense, and it was difficult to believe there were ignorant parents/guardians over the matter.

"We call up for stern legal measures to all perpetrators to serve as lesson for others. We handed them to police and they will soon be taken to court, hopefully," she said: Adding that Sikujua will revive her dreams of going to school as the Municipality was looking forward to communicate with the regional education officer,

to grant her a chance to attend school. Currently, Sikujua is accommodated by WAJIKI whose boss confirmed that she was looking for sponsors to support the girl. Having experience and escaped forced marriage, Sikujua expressed her passion to become the lawyer, to reinforce among others, legal Articles which advocate education rights to girls.


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Publish date : 2018-04-08 09:57:02
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