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Champions Fight for Girls’ Education to End Child Marriage

Child marriage is a devastating cultural norm which, despite national laws and regulations, persists in the traditional communities where So They Can works in rural Babati in Tanzania.

Among the local Barabaig, Iraqw and Maasai tribes, most girls are engaged for marriage at the age of 5 with a dowry payment made by the male’s family. In preparation for their early marriage girls, now commonly as young as infants, are being subjected to Female Genital Cutting (Mutilation – FGC/M). Changing entrenched attitudes, beliefs and practices around these practices, that explicitly violate the rights of girls, requires ongoing community awareness.

So They Can’s local network of 82 trained Champions, like Peter who is a dedicated local Champion Father, play a critical role in that community transformation process. Peter epitomises the true value of a Champion, and since volunteering in the role from early 2022 he has worked tirelessly to rescue many girls in his community.  He explains:

‘I have supported several girls in order to save them from early marriage. According to tradition, the first man who comes forward and pays a dowry, is considered the future husband, and no other man can be given the right to that child. The ages of the girls vary, but all are in primary school. Some are in Standard 2 and 3 [aged 8 and 9 years old], some are slightly older in Standard 6 and 7 [aged 13 and 14 years old]. and one has completed lower Secondary School [aged 18 years old] and she passed with top grades.’

Tanzania is a signatory of the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child, and marriage before the age of 18 is illegal. However gender inequality, poverty, harmful cultural norms and insecurity pervades in underserved rural communities, and as a consequence child marriage remains the harsh reality for too many girls.

It is So They Can’s Champions, trained in child rights, protection and safeguarding, that act as trusted advocates for girls, and boys, in their communities. Through regular school visits, family consultations and participation in local meetings with traditional leaders, government and education stakeholders, they become focal points for girls in need. Peter shares:

‘Recently a man went to the home of a Standard 6 girl [13 years old] in the middle of the night to try and engage her. Luckily, someone from her family ran to my house to report the incident, and I was able to go immediately there and rescue that child — I brought her to my home.’

Peter knows that education is the key to long-term change, and it is what motivates him in his plight to rescue girls, and keep them in school. So They Can’s gender-centred Education Program approach is backed by evidence that:

  • Education for girls significantly lowers child marriage prevalance;
  • Education can reduce gender inequality;
  • The effect of girls’ education is intergenerational.

Together, with Peter and our dedicated network of Champions, we remain committed to ending child marriage, to ensure every young girl is safe, protected and can access education.
So They Can is a proud partner of the Girls Not Brides global network made up of 1,600 organisations in over 100 countries working collectively to end child marriage so that girls can fulfil their potential.

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