Polygamy is the state or practice of a man having more than one wife simultaneously. This is a common practice among the pastoralists of Tanzania.
One young woman a close relative of mine was forcefully married off by her father as a second wife. She was only 14 years old then. I had previously got a chance in school for her and was ready to enroll her when her father sent word that he needed her back. He did not explain the reason why he needed her back. I respected his request and made sure his daughter went home to see what the father wanted.
To my surprise he told me he had decided to marry her off. I explained to him that I already got a chance for her at a school and ready to cover all her expenses but he refused. I pleaded with him but he turned me down.
Many years later two of his co-wives contracted HIV/AIDS. Eight years ago one of them (the third) died and in March this year the other one (first) died. Today she worries of what will happen next despite the availability of medical care and support from those of us who care about her. The husband is alive and they both have three children one son and two daughters who are healthy.
He (husband) was a watchman in a neighboring country. Due to high illiteracy levels many men from my community are hired as watchmen. This is the most available job for them. His salary could not sustain them every month and had to stay for many months before going home in order to collect more money to take back home. This then made him get involved in other extra affairs and contracted diseases and then transmitting to his wives. The thought of early forced marriages and F.G.M brings with it a lot of pain in what has happened to people we dearly care about.
Tradition and culture among the pastoralists / indigenous people are dip rooted and well conserved for many years. Harmful / Negative Traditional Practices (H/NTPs) have seen their way into the lives of many girls and women in Tanzania. Many have contracted diseases while many others have died too. Some of the H/NTPs like circumcision of girls and early forced marriages are very common practices in some parts of the world especially Africa.
Over the years into the practice like in many African countries Tanzania has had marriage laws that were contravening and curtailed. The law saw the justification of many poor girls getting married at an early age without the limit age of their marriage partners. This means that any man of any age can marry a young girl. To those not in support of the same like me, saw an indication of justified rape. In other words, what would you call a sexual relationship between a 9-year-old girl and a 72-year-old man? The marriage law of Tanzania saw this happen for many years.
The banning of early and forced marriages came in very late but very handy too. We celebrate this new positive change towards acquisition of rights by our girls, our daughters and future women. It marks the beginning of the end of early /forced marriages a practice that has forced me to train girls from my community to restrain from accepting /getting compromised to such situations. Naishiye is one of the girls trained and whom I rescued from a forced marriage. I did not have a home for such cases but managed to help her. This pushed me plan a fundraiser for the construction of a girls’ rescue center before the end of this year to help girls like her who have suffered a lot. At last we appreciate the efforts of all those involved in making this great and positive difference for the Tanzania girls and women.
Although countries like Kenya have tried to stop girl/ child forced marriages and have proper legal systems current reports are still indicating its prevalence in many communities. In Rusizi district in Rwanda police foiled a sinister deal in which parents had planned to force their 16-year-old daughter into marriage contrary to the legal marriage age of 21 years.
Apart from the H/NTPs contributing to the early and forced marriages, I have witnessed poverty levels among families in my community rise contributing to the same. Completely misplacing the meaning of marriage which was initially a voluntary union of a man and woman intended to last for their joint lives.
The banning of this practice is of paramount importance. The question that arises from this is, how long will it take to stop this practice? Having legal reforms on papers is very good but implementation / putting it into action is the other big part. What needs to be done next is a comprehensive training on the need for communities on H/NTPs avoidance and lobby with the relevant authorities to stop corruption that will encourage the vice. I have already developed a program to be implemented to this effect. Education on the need to support / empowerment of girls is inevitable. According to my various experiences in other countries, these practices have taken so long due to its long time existence in communities. Although the legal systems are in place, early/ forced marriages have not completely stopped but have reduced tremendously.
While I believe this is a great move/ step, according to me it will take more time for communities to accept the change immediately. That’s why training / educating them first is very important for the achievement of good results/ object of the ban, for the right bearers and sustainability.
I will not stop training girls, rescuing them and training members of my community and until this change takes place. I will also lobby and network with other actors to make sure we reach out to helping girls and women in my community and our country the United Republic of Tanzania.
With a legal policy, a good entry-point into the community towards the right direction, we will make it. I call upon all people of Tanzania and the whole world to support this noble course.
“Let’s do it for the vice is like a poisonous tree/ plant that can destroy people/ animals, if it’s not uprooted it will continue growing and causing more harm”.