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Ending Child Marriage and Building Futures for Girls in Tanzania

A SEGA school graduate mentors local girls about their rights and more.

A SEGA school graduate mentors local girls about their rights and more.

Recently, the high court of Tanzania raised the minimum age for a girl to marry to 18—a milestone in a country where 37 percent of girls are married before the age of 18.

Tanzania joins the growing number of countries in Africa whose leaders are trying to stop child marriage by streamlining laws to protect girls.  Prior to this ruling, a girl could be married in Tanzania at 15 with parental consent or at 14 with consent of a court.

Government leaders in Tanzania and elsewhere have come to understand that girls who marry too young face reproductive health problems, are more likely to experience domestic violence, and are less likely to attend school. An early marriage usually means a life of poverty for a girl and her future children.

But changing the law is only a first step. Critical to success is changing the cultural attitudes that lead to child marriage by educating girls and their families. And who better to help in this process than young girls themselves?

Since 2007 Aid for Africa member Nurturing Minds has been supporting the SEGA school in rural Tanzania. The school serves 200 vulnerable girls who are poor, marginalized and at-risk of early marriage or other forms of exploitation.  The students attend traditional classes, but also learn how to run businesses that contribute to the school’s sustainability.  SEGA graduates move on to higher education or start their own businesses.

Recently, SEGA graduates began spearheading a mentoring program in their communities for girls between the ages of 10 and 18.  In a club setting, these girls learn about their rights, reproductive health, financial literacy and career counseling, according to Program Coordinator Clementina Mwambene. Club members also will learn about entrepreneurship and personal finance, Mwambene said.

“Most of them are not in school, and want to know what other options they have. Financial literacy opens many doors for girls in these communities.”

And now the local girls will learn about the high court’s ruling on marriage as the program expands to provide this vital information.

This year 15 SEGA mentors have been working with 70 girls each week in four local communities.  The program will expand to 12 communities next year, according to Laura DeDominicis, executive director of Nurturing Minds. “We expect the program will expand to 24 mentors for 200 girls next year.”

“These girls will now learn their rights and start building the skills they need to lead productive lives. They will know that even if they are not in school, they will not have to be married.”