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Dowry? No, thanks! Young girl chooses college, planned marriage vanishes

access to justice 2020_english

Nchambi (not her real name) (17) lives in Maganzo in the District of Kishapu in Shinyanga with her family, but as a common occurrence to girls in various other parts of Tanzania she nearly became trapped in the world of child marriage following her father’s desire to marry her off early. Her father, Lyuba Seif, was intent on this marriage materializing in June, 2019 following his acceptance of dowry presented to him in the form of five heads of cattle and Tsh.300,000 in cash without even her knowledge.

“I remember seeing new heads of cattle at home and frankly speaking I thought possibly dad had decided on rearing livestock and for that reason I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary”, says Nchambi.

These events unfolded while all she had in her mind was the desire of acquiring an education that would one day enable her to be self-sufficient and lead a better life than the one her family endured. It is this apparent poverty that pushed her father to consider marrying her off and hopefully use the dowry as a bridge to an improved life for his family.

The small size of her community meant that news of Seif accepting cattle and cash for his daughter spread like wildfire. Men, women and youths at different times all talked about it not as a shock but rather as yet another one of such occurrences. This, however, wasn’t the case with everyone and those that didn’t want to sit and watch another young girl face the prospect of a bleak future while her peers were in school felt this was an opportunity to seize and act upon.

Paralegals based in the district are well-known for helping change the outcomes of many a predicament in which local people find themselves in often due to an inherent lack of awareness of laws and their rights. Many of these situations never ended well. Rumours of a marriage being planned in the Seif household reached the paralegals and it was good fortune that the plans hadn’t progressed beyond the dowry acceptance stage. This window of opportunity presented them the chance to take appropriate and rapid measures to save Nchambi from the apparent marriage.

As per work protocol, Paralegal Aid Centre Shinyanga (PACESHI) the regional mentor organization overseeing paralegal units in Shinyanga, was duly informed about the ongoing situation and immediately became involved. PACESHI’s Programme Manager, John Shija, recalls the situation: “Nchambi’s case necessitated speedy intervention due to the fact she was in an environment where she could have taken away secretly far from any semblance of help. So in order not allow any room for such a move, quick, deliberate efforts were made with the cooperation of other concerned citizens to reach her on time”.

The involvement of PACESHI made it possible for Seif to be enlightened about the pertinent laws and the rights every child is expected to be accorded particularly the right to an education. This wasn’t a downhill task, however having understood that there was no way he could safely accomplish his intent he succumbed and changed course. Up until this point he had also been cautioned by the police against preventing a child from being schooled. The police didn’t pursue the matter any further after he signed an agreement to the effect.

He still had the five heads of cattle but not the money. He duly returned the cattle to his daughter’s suitor but remained Tsh.300,000 in debt. PACESHI and the local paralegals took over the responsibility of ensuring Nchambi didn’t get married but instead improved her skills and built herself a foundation for an improved life and ultimately helping her family.

At the Shinyanga Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA) College PACESHI facilitated the enrolment of Nchambi where she was admitted and pro- vided with on-campus accommodation. She believes the tailoring course she chose represents an important step in the journey towards a brighter tomorrow.

PACESHI and the paralegals sat down with her parents and together they agreed that Nchambi would be assisted to train as a tailoress and that the organization would sponsor her. Furthermore, PACESHI would provide her with the initial capital she would need to establish her tailoring business, purchase a sewing machine for her and closely monitor her progress until such a time that she is able to stand on her own feet.

“I have never, not even once, shifted my mind from the thought of getting an education and I was very disappointed by my father’s decision to find me a suitor and even going to the extent of accepting dowry for me. But when I look at where I feel renewed; I spoke with the paralegals on many occasions and they encouraged me not to give up and they also taught me very important aspects of my rights. This is a huge step for me because now I’m beginning to get hold of a vital tool against poverty”, says Nchambi.

Just two weeks after enrolling she was already able to cut fabric and sew pieces together on her own, something that proves her capability which would have been lost to a marriage that wouldn’t have served her interests in any way. Theresia Masinga, a tailoring tutor at the college, says from the day Nchambi set foot at the college she has displayed remarkable will to learn; “I hold the view she has a lot going for her and with the degree of concentration that she always shows, there’s no telling where she will be; I’m impressed by her”, says Masinga.

This change in her life’s direction that now sees her in college is expected to increase the possibility of an upward change in her personal life and that of her family as well as a result of the knowledge and skills she will acquire. Nchambi represents thousands of girls from across the country who face circumstances that force their dreams to vanish while they are still very young.

Seif, who has taken quite some time and a degree of wrestling to accept change, believes this a unique opportunity because he sees the possibility of benefitting significantly through his daughter’s education and skills in contrast to his earlier plan to get her into child marriage.

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