Visiting Tanzania to learn about underage marriage, Myleene Klass explains why April is high season for child abuse
‘As soon as I arrive in Shinyanga, Tanzania, I’m immediately impressed by the luscious landscape and the colours – the bright green terrain and the blue sky. It’s the rainy season now and I’m told that this is when the men of Shinyanga have more money than usual. They’ve harvested their crops and they have plenty of livestock. But for the young girls who live here, this is a particularly dangerous time.
Speaking to me over a traditional lunch of fish and rice, one Save the Children aid worker explained that because men now have lots of cash, this is also the high season for child marriage and therefore, sexual violence. Unlike in Rajasthan, India, here there are no weddings or ceremonies; the girls are simply forced into a man’s arms in return for money desperately needed by their own families in order to survive. It’s not uncommon for parents to encourage their young daughters to head out to fetch water after dark, in the hope they might tempt older men into marriage. In some cases, this has horrifying results.
I met Agnes*, who is now 17. When she was only 15 years old she went to the well to collect water, when she was raped by a 31 year-old man, and fell pregnant as a result. When her family found out, they kicked her out of the home and her school banned her from attending.
“I was excluded from my community”, she told me. After she gave birth and returned home, she said “my father told me ‘your rights have ended here. When you became pregnant, your rights disappeared’.”
This young, innocent girl was robbed of her education and her childhood. I have two daughters and I can’t help thinking of them – their youth and innocence – as I meet these young Tanzanian victims of early marriage and sexual violence.
I’m shocked how girls as young as 13 can be traded for cows or cash and how poverty turns these young women into a commodity. This kind of discrimination against girls is not only unjust, it’s also deadly. Girls in Tanzania who are forced into marriage are stripped of opportunities to learn, thrive and to be healthy. They are routinely subject to violence – both physical and sexual – and neglected by their families and their communities. They suffer higher than usual rates of maternal mortality and HIV/Aids.
Save the Children has been working to end child marriage in Tanzania – calling on the government to change relevant laws and enforce a minimum marriage age of 18. This month I had the privilege of seeing the work they do first-hand in Shinyanga, for the launch of their new campaign – Every Last Child. Through this, the charity aims to highlight the plight of forgotten children around the world: Forgotten simply because of their gender, or ethnicity or where they were born.
Agnes* is now back at school thanks to a local organisation that works in partnership with the charity, and she is learning how to turn her life around. But she’s surrounded by classmates who’ve gone through similar ordeals – some with stories even worse than her own.’