In June 2013 Tanzania held the East Africa Regional Conference on Child Marriage attended by FORWARD, FORWARD’s Tanzania Partners Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) and FORWARD’s ambassador, author Gavin Weston, as well as many other key players in East Africa. In this last interview of our African Voices on Child Marriage series, Gavin records the public interview that took place between the attendees and the former child brides of the Mobilising Action to Safeguard the Rights of Girls project run by CDF, who attended to speak to guests about their experiences of child marriage.
In this interview the girls and women talk about the processes by which girls in their communities are married at a young age and how being married, and the being part of the CDF project, has affected their lives. The girls’ names have been changed to protect their privacy and their answers have been translated from Swahili.
Please could you talk to us about how your marriages were arranged. What was the process of getting married?
Ghati: They disregard the age completely. You can even be ten years old. What they want is that dowry. And if you run away as a child, they will go looking for you until they find you. This is the situation. I got married at thirteen years of age. Interestingly, two years after I got married, my husband had died, I was told by her mother, ‘Now, look for a man, another man who you can marry and you can give birth with…who you can produce a baby with together’.
Bhoke: When I was small, I was introduced to a lady who was related to my father – who was older, she was a woman, an old woman. So the old woman went to my father’s place and asks for someone to stay with her. That’s when I was given to this woman. So I stayed there. I thought that I was assisting this woman with chores at home, until one day the old woman told me, ‘Now it is time you find a man, so that you can give birth’. So I asked, ‘Does this mean that I am married?’ So the woman said, ‘Yes, you are married, to me’. And so I was married to the old woman. So I am married to the old woman, but the old woman has decided to find a man for me, so that I can have children. Or I can choose a man so that I can have children, and those children will be the children of the old woman. That is the situation.
When I turned fifteen the old woman looked for that man, so that I can marry him and get a baby. What happened is that I got that first child and that baby died. So it took some time, but later on I was able to bear some children. (Points to photograph on wall.) These are my three children. When I went to my grandmother and said, ‘Listen, I need a small amount of money, just for small things for use at home,’ the old woman said, ‘No, I have no money.’ The young man was then told to marry me and get my three children things, but when I asked him for money, he said, ‘I have no money.’ – a paradox. I already had three children, but the man said, ‘No, you just keep giving those children food. I don’t have money.’
Robi: I’m from an area called Rodea. In that area, there are a few processes of getting married. You’ll find that there is a man who has a child, a girl child, and if he finds any man who has a kind of wealth, or ability or resources – it can be anybody outside of that particular region of Rodea – then the father will go to the other man and he will say, ‘Can you buy me a beer?’ He will then sit down, they will have the beer and he will say, ‘Listen now, I have a young girl at home and I’m looking for a husband for her, for someone to marry her.
Sometimes, when a girl is sent to the market, looking for the basic necessities, vegetables and the like, you will find that there are young men there. Now, these young men, they will entice young girls. They are the same age. When they complete their Standard Seven, usually when they are about fourteen years old, they will be waiting for the results of the examinations. When they reach the market, these young men start to get little objects for the young girls; it could be clothes and the like. They will say, ‘Okay, let’s get married.’ It’s almost like eloping. Let’s just get married and do our own things. So, now they have decided to marry, they find themselves in this situation. They find a relative who is in the vicinity, and they’ll say, ‘Listen, please take these vegetables home. I was sent to buy vegetables. Please take them home. I will come back home later. They will jump on a bicycle and go for a distance, not too far, maybe two kilometres away from that locality. So, they have now come together, when the girl’s parents begin to look for her, they will go and visit the family of this young girl and the young man takes it upon himself to talk to that family to say, ‘Listen, I have now decided to marry this girl and I will take care of her.’ When they go to the girl’s home, the young man will give usually offer two cows or goats, just as the dowry for that young girl so usually the family will be very, very happy. Then, this young man will have to speak to his own family, his father and mother, and tell them the situation. He will tell them that the girl’s family have asked for two cows or two goats, and he’ll say, ‘Can you please provide this resource?’. After, it’s not actually this young man who goes back to the girl’s family; he finds two other boys who’ll represent him and take the dowry back to the girl’s family.
Wankulu: There’s a special type of music; this special music is part of a ceremony. If somebody dies, the evening that the person passes away, there is a special music called mawoka. When that music is played two girls are selected to go and play at that ceremony. So, already the young girls have been selected to play and dance there. However, the men also go around the community to nearby homes with young girls and they say; ‘Can you please come and dance to this music?’ and if they refuse to dance they are usually punished. So, at the ceremony an area is cordoned off. They put a fence up and these girls are put inside and are stuck and cannot get out; there is no door for them to go through. The girls are more or less trapped in there and they are surrounded. They switch on the music when the girls are in the middle and these young girls have to start dancing. There is a special guy who’s like an agent and he tries to … to deal. This Dalani, what they call the agent, he has a whistle. So the girls dance, and when the Dalani blows the whistle, they stop. When they stop he just mentions a number, ‘Two hundred!’ So, he says, ‘Two hundred!’ Then a prospective ‘buyer’, gives the money and he starts dancing with a girl. So, it becomes like an auction. So, one will say, ‘Two hundred’ but another man will say, ‘No. I can give more.’ It becomes, really, like an auction session. So the highest bidder, say one thousand, takes this girl. They can be sold for as low as ten thousand or fifteen thousand Tanzanian shillings. Who is good at Maths? It’s very little, less than ten dollars. They get given this music tape. So, once this process is done these men – the highest bidders – stand there and they face the girls who they actually, ah, bought.
The Dalani has requested that this man who wants to marry the girl must bring the tape case with the money inside. Each girl now has this tape of the music. She has the cover and she has to pay the Dalani for the tape. So she has to ask someone to pay for it. The girls, before they go to the ceremony location, they are dressed in a kanga which is tied up, it’s the usual clothes – a sarong. So, as they stand facing one another, this man takes the kanga off the girl who he bought. The girl realises that she has no money to pay for the tape, so she now has to give her kanga, that sarong, which is very precious to her – her mother has given it to her. She now has to give it away. So, this process has been completed. The men are then are allowed to go out and start some kind of relationship with these girls. This is where gender based sexual violence begins, because nearby there are some bushes. The man says, ‘What do you say, young girl?’. She has nothing to say, so they jump in the bushes, ‘business’ continues as usual, and then they finish. So, this man, after taking her kanga, now he returns the sarong to this young girl, and then this man gives the girl the money. So, this girl, after all this has taken place, I don’t even know how she’d be feeling at this point, she will take that tape, take the cover, put the money inside and then give it back to the Dalani, to this agent.
So, the next morning, they call it the morning after, the parents will start to look for this young girl who went for this dance. The parents cannot find the young girl, so what happens is the man and the girl they have eloped, they have run away, and they cannot be found. But later on, when the family eventually find her and the man, the parents of that girl will say: ‘Listen, it’s not a problem. All you need to do is just give us the dowry. Let it go, but just give us the dowry.’ So it’s finished that way. The girl is lied to. She will go that evening. She will go to the dance. The next day she is being stolen away and married off.
I also want to add about that music, most of the girls are small. The man who is involved with these young girls, he doesn’t care about the age of that child. Twelve years old. You’ll find that the girl might only be eleven years. You don’t know the age of that young girl. So, they may not be ready for marriage as such, but there are men who will then approach them for marriage and say, ‘Are you ready?’ So she gets all kinds of temptations at a very young age.
Interviewer: It reminds me of…Lesotho? If I’m not wrong, I stand to be corrected. The Massai culture also have these special dances, especially when it’s time for harvest, they will go dancing and disappear into the bushes and that’s when this very high rate of HIV infection occurs. There are very similar parallels with these two tribes.
How has the project impacted upon your lives? And also, as girls, what do you feel can, or has to be done, so that there is positive change in the next two to three years? How has the project changed your life?
Cynthia: This project has changed my life in such a big way, before I couldn’t even stand in front of so many people like this. I faced the same challenge of child marriage. I myself was also at the stage of Standard Seven. When the project found me, I was at a difficult stage, but after I joined the CDF project, they helped me to develop as a person. I value myself and I’m now proud to be a woman. And now I have completed Form Four. Now I have direction in my life. I study and I have set my own objectives and I’m going to follow through on those.
Grace: I got married at twelve years old. In 2005 I gave birth to a child but it child passed away. After that, I joined the CDF project and the CDF project has some objectives on reproductive health. I started learning about family planning. I now have three healthy children. Two children are studying in Kenya and the other little one is three years old. CDF has taught me so many things. They have a special group where they have twenty girls in this group, which I lead. In this situation of child marriage it is critical, because my own uncle is the one who gave me away. And when my father passed away, we were left alone. So, my uncle met with a Koriha, from the Koriha tribe. So they were doing business…buying and selling. I was just surprised, one day I saw cows arriving. He said, ‘Please rise up. Get up. Your time here in this home is finished. Your home is now with this man.’ In those days there were not even phones. I couldn’t even talk to my own mother, to be able to speak to her. So, it was December. This was the time when they actually circumcise. My mother-in-law thought that I must get circumcised. I was so restricted by this family and my mother-in-law that I could not even go to the gate of that house. I had to stay inside because I was not circumcised.
Rose: This project by CDF has really helped me to do lots of things. I got pregnant when I was in Form Two and never continued my studies. I was so upset I said, ‘I’m going to try and kill this child.’ I drank all kinds of poisonous things, including ashes, to try and kill my baby. When CDF arrived in this area they started to help us and teach us. We started to realise the real results, the negative impact, the harmful impact of early child marriages. There were many situations whereby young girls fall pregnant, and then the mother will give her the traditional medicine, traditional healing medicine, whereby she will force the uterus to rot. And that is just a very difficult situation. One girl was given some kind of medicine by her grandmother to try and get rid of her child. The grandmother said, ‘Listen, how can you lose your beauty? Just get rid of the child. Take this medicine’. Unfortunately, her womb, her intestines all got rotten and this poor child passed away. There’s a sad story for us. At that time, a lot of girls were passing away. Now I have the capacity, I have the confidence. With this confidence which I have built up, I have now been able to start my own club and now we have our own objectives. Thank you.
Mary: CDF has helped me with so many things which I didn’t even know. I never knew my rights. I couldn’t stand in front of people like this. Honestly, if I’d been taught these things earlier, I would not have been circumcised.
Bhoke: I thank CDF because they helped me with so many things. I am in a situation whereby I had started a small group of nine girls and I am now the leader, teaching them. My group grew from nine girls to sixty. I am now an advocate – we are doing our own advocacy. Interestingly now, we are advocating for the girls ourselves in cases whereby people are doing things like early marriage, and we are actually opening cases in the courts ourselves. That is a big step in advocacy. Advocacy by ourselves. I thank CDF for what they have done for me.
Cynthia: I had a really strong desire to continue my education but I couldn’t, because my father said, ‘I cannot educate a young girl.’ Life was very difficult. I then fell pregnant and it was a very difficult pregnancy, but I got a young boy. And that child is still alive and well today.
Interviewer: One thing has been touched on here is psycho-social issues. You know, I can still see the trauma. I believe that at this point, these young girls are, some are half way healed and some are not. I’m just adding an aside. But Cynthia had severe psycho-social trauma. But a girl from CDF said, ‘No. No. You can make it. Hey, don’t give up’. Sometimes it takes us to hold their hands, because they just can’t get out of that situation. This is wonderful. She is so confident that she is saying, ‘Now I can stand before people. This hall even seems small. I can stand in front of even a bigger crowd.’ Round of applause for her! (Clapping.) CDF is a very reputable organisation. We value our partners working in this area. Can we stand up? I want to give these girls, these special girls, a standing ovation. These are animators and change agents. Thank you very much. God bless you.
FORWARD works in partnership with Children’s Dignity Forum, supporting them through capacity building to strengthen their abilities as an organisation so that they can work within communities to end Child Marriage and FGM. The projects which these girls and women participate in, Mobilising Action to Safeguard the Rights of Girls, aims to empower girls as individuals and in young women’s networks through skills training, and the production and distribution of information and education materials on sexual and reproductive health and rights. You can read more about FORWARD’s work on our website www.forwarduk.org.uk
Gavin Weston has been an Ambassador for FORWARD since 2013 and is passionate campaigner against child marriage and FGM. He has written a book Harmattan about a young girl in Niger, you can find out more about the book here and can follow Gavin on Twitter @WestonOfTinTown.