Intl. Day of Girl Child 2021: Child marriage continues to affect many young girls in Tanzania

As the world marks International Day of the Girl Child today on October 11, Child marriage continues to affect many young girls across Tanzania.

However, a series of interventions supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is allowing children to get the support they need to avoid unwanted and potentially damaging relationships in the country.

UNFPA Tanzania is supporting efforts to eradicate gender-based violence and to strengthen protection systems across the country In addition to supporting the National Child Helpline, it is also working with police officers who staff specialized gender and children’s investigation units that meet the needs of women and girls, and other one-stop support services that provide holistic care all in one place to ensure that victims of abuse do not have to go from one place to another to get medical care, psychosocial support or legal assistance.

Community centres, where women support each other and take the lead in ending violence in their communities, have also been set up.

Empowering men and boys as agents of change

Efforts to end violence are not only focused on empowering women and girls. Men and boys, and traditional and community leaders, are also included in conversations in recognition of their role and contribution to gender equality. Through extensive community outreach, UNFPA’s partners are encouraging discussions around harmful stereotypes of masculinity and positive ways to support the rights of women and girls.

However, a counsellor at the National Child Helpline in Tanzania said that she received a call from a concerned teacher in Msalala, a small town in the remote Shinyanga region in the north-west of the East African country complaining that one of her students was forced into marriage.

The teacher said that one of her brightest students Eliza*, aged 13, had not gone to school that day following worrying rumours that her parents intended to marry her off. She learned that they had accepted payment in the form of a bride dowry from the family of the intended groom. The man chosen for Eliza was at 35-years-old, more than 22 years her senior.

UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem’s call

Engaging men in holding other men accountable is critical to creating the basis for greater equality and they must not be left out or left behind, stressed UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem who recently visited Tanzania.  “Every girl and boy should be valued and should be taught that the expression of their right and empowerment should not be centred on overpowering others.”

Supporting government-led efforts

During her visit to Tanzania, Dr. Kanem met with the country’s first female President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who expressed Tanzania’s commitment to eliminate preventable maternal and child deaths, gender-based violence and harmful practices, including female genital mutilation.

Dr. Kanem commended the government’s leadership and reaffirmed UNFPA’s support to Tanzania to realize development targets and stronger, more inclusive socioeconomic growth with the goal of leaving no one behind.

International Day of the Girl Child

The date was set by the United Nations to urge the global community to embolden gender equality impacts. This year, the UN urges the world to bridge the gender digital divide that exists in diverse skills and jobs – a challenge that society is increasingly facing due to the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. “The gender digital divide in connectivity, devices, and use, skills and jobs is real,” the UN said in an official statement detailing the significance of the International Day of the Girl Child 2021. “It is an inequity and exclusion gap across geographies and generations that is our challenge to address if the digital revolution is to be for all, with all, by all.”

International Day of the Girl Child: History

A blueprint for a proper framework of recognising girls’ rights first began to take shape in 1995 at the World Conference on Women in China. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was unanimously adopted by all the countries present, was since regarded as “the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing the rights of not only women but girls.”

Later, on December 18, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise the unique challenges that girls face around the world, which may share links but also be completely different from the kind of challenges that women face.