Shija Kashinje, a father of two daughters, is among the many parents in Nzega district, Tabora region who are willing to let their daughters get married at early ages. Shija who resides in Itiro ward, Nzega district, had accepted seven cows as bride price for his 16 year old daughter to get married only to be stopped by the village authorities.
“When I returned from boozing, my wife told me that some people have come and they want to marry my daughter. They returned later with seven cows as bride price and I agreed,” says Mr Shija who admits to being under the influence of alcohol when he made the decision.
Shija goes further to indicate that the practice is so common that the community including girls themselves feels that at the age of 13 to 16, a girl is ready for marriage. “Here a girl of 16 years of age feels ready to get married; in fact you can wake up in the morning and find her gone.”
Itiro ward is one of the few examples who have introduced bylaws in their villages to curb and stop early marriage practices which are rampant in Tabora region which has the second highest rates of early marriages in Tanzania. This has been a result of legal education and raising awareness provided by paralegals to the local authorities and community members in Itiro ward.
Paulina Ferdinand is a paralegal and resident of Itiro ward who says, “Early marriages were so rampant in Itiro ward and we felt that something needs to be done to stop it.” Paulina insists that she decided to talk to the village and ward authorities to introduce bylaws that prevent parents from allowing their children to get married. The same gospel was spread to the community members in Itiro village and ward in order to come to a common understanding.
The local authorities agreed to setup these bylaws and insisted that citizens should abide by them in Itiro ward and these should apply to anybody who comes to the ward.
Pascal Masunga, Itiro Ward Councilor insists, “Those who violate these bylaws are punishable by paying a fine and breaking up wedding plans and returning the bride price.”
With these bylaws in practice, Shije and the likes have no choice but follow the rules after many years of trading their daughters for some cows in the name of bride price in Itiro.
“I was called to the village office and was told that my daughter was under the age of marriage. I was ordered to abandon the wedding plans and return the bride price,” says Mr Shija insisting that he felt fine because the decision was made by the village authorities.
The bylaws stipulated that any marriage should get the approval of the village leadership. In addition, if a girl is from another village, there must be a consultation among villages to agree on the legitimacy of the marriage.
An overjoyed Paulina says, “I feel happy, I feel peace, I now realize that the training and awareness I am offering to people is working and seems to be valuable to the entire community.”