Even though it’s against the law to marry underage girls in Tanzania, many parents continue to follow the ancient tradition. This means that they give their daughters as young as 11 or 12 in marriage to men who are much older, sometimes more than three times their age.
The punishment for this can be up to 30 years in prison, both for the man marrying the girl under 18 and for the parents who allow the union. But still many cases occur yearly. There is a strong economical advantage behind this tradition. Marrying off a daughter means that the family receives a dowry in exchange for the young girl. Cows are a staple in Tanzania and apparently much more valuable to some parents than their daughters.
A poor family, for example, would only be able to get cows by marrying off the daughters. So as soon as the girls reach a certain age, the parents eagerly exchange her for cattle.
A lot of men want to marry young girls between the ages of 12 and 14. They say that this age the girls adapt better to their new family. Girls who are educated are not as attractive because they’re not considered good for the household. This is because they want to have an opinion and aren’t as submissive as the culture expects them to be. An educated girl is only worth about 5 cows. Parents are aware of this and simply refuse to send their daughters to school.
Local authorities and activists are working tirelessly to put an end to this tradition, however. They often go so far as to interrupt the wedding ceremonies and put the adult men involved in prison. The rescued girls are taken away to a place where they can receive schooling and hopes for a brighter future.
One such hostel is home to about 150 girls. Each girl has her own story. Some of them ran away from their abusive husbands while others were rescued on their wedding day.
Times have changed and many of the villagers are now realizing this. Most of them have stopped exchanging their daughters for cows and a few have actually understood the importance of a good education. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. After all, you can’t expect to eradicate such a lucrative tradition without some resistance.