‘‘My road towards education ended in marriage”: the voice of an African child bride

According to UN-Women and UNFPA, Tanzania's rural Shinyanga Region has the countries highest rate of child marriage and underage pregnancies. Youth For Change Tanzania visited Shinyanga to meet child brides who've been rescued and supported into education by Agape AIDS Control. This is one of their stories.

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Zaituna and I reside in a rural area near Shinyanga rural, in northern Tanzania. I’m a 15 year old girl - I got married at 13 years old and I have one child.

What led you to get married while at 13 years?

Staff at Agape Aids Control HQ in Shinyanga

Staff at Agape Aids Control HQ in Shinyanga

At 13 years old I was left in the custody of my aunties and they said they would take me to school. My parents could not afford to keep me since they earned a small income, and they decided to move to north of Mwanza Region in Tanzania to look for work so as they can laterafford my education expenses .

Later on my aunties brought me a man who was aged about 35 years old and told me if I would marry him, he will take me to school.

‘‘My aunties told me the man would take me to school and cater for all of my Education expenses I had no choice’’.

Why did you decide to stay with the man who was 35 years older than you?

I really wanted to get education and I used to envy my friends who went to school. I wanted to be educated, so I agreed to marry the man who my aunties brought to me so as to be able to go to school and hopefully complete my studies. In our community it’s very much taboo to not listen to our elders, and I was in no position to say no to my aunties.

Tell us more about the life of a child bride?

The day I moved in to stay with the man to be termed as my husband was the beginning of the worst life I could ever imagine

The day I moved in to stay with the man to be termed as my husband was the beginning of the worst life I could’ve ever imagine. I was constantly beaten up and insulted without any reason, and he usually left the house without even leaving money for food - I had to eat at my neighbor’s house.

My parents did not know of the fact that I was married off as I had no means of communicating with them. My road to education ended in a blink of an eye and I became a house wife from 13 years old.

What steps did you take to transition from being a child bride to continuing to pursue your studies?

The Agape Aids Control project so far has rescued more than 200 girls - victims of child marriages - of which 60 have been supported to attend one year vocational training courses, 49 have recieved educational support and 135 received entreprenuership skills and are being supported on small business development. The programme is intending to reach 700 girls who are victims or at risk of child marriages.

One early at dawn, I was heading towards the market place, I heard drums dance music playing in suspense. I went to figure out what was happening behind the crowds and there was a film screening by Agape Aids Control, an organization working towards ending gender-based violence. They showcased a film on educating the society to ‘Stop Child Marriage’ - I watched, and when I returned home my husband beat me up to the extent I couldn’t walk. After that decided to run away from that man’s house.

I felt that was not the type of life I wanted. I wanted to be like the other girls who had access to education rather than to be beaten up every day. I told my parents what had happened – up to this point they did not know of my situation, and once they found out they immediately threatened to report my aunties to the police.

By then I was already pregnant, and in 2014 and had my first child. After 8 months I went to seek help at Agape Aids Control, and now they’ve sponsored me to attend secondary school where I’m receiving education and staying in campus with other child brides they’ve rescued.

If you hadn’t been married at 13 years where would you see yourself now?

I see myself as a young girl who would have enjoyed her youth nicely, I would not have had to suffer such sexual abuse, I would have not been 15 years old right now with a child to take care of. I would have not been made a young mother at this age.

What do you envisage for every girl-child?

I envisage for every girl child not to be robbed of their childhood, whether by poverty or lack of education - every girl child needs to be protected and respected, and able to live a normal life.

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