A pregnant schoolgirl in Tarime.
OUTDATED customs and cultural practices of marrying off girls at a tender age have continued to deny school girls the right to education in Tarime and Serengeti Districts of Mara Region.
A survey done by THISDAY in the two districts has established that the rate of schoolgirls dropping out of school due to pregnancies and early marriages is high but there are no official statistics on this social misnomer as most of the cases are swept under the carpet as all the parties reach an agreement without the involvement of authorities such as police officers in the area.
Out of a thousand other cases, this reporter came across two heart-rending stories where the future of two young girls was thrown into disarray as they were bundled out of school to assume another role, motherhood.
In one of the cases, parents of a boy who impregnated a schoolmate, used financial muscles to keep the story away from the responsible authorities as they offered to take care of the girl while the other is a sad story of a girl who was bundled out of school by her parents and forced to marry an old man, older than her father, so that they could get dowry they were planning to use to pay for her brother who was planning to get married.
In the first story, a former Mogabiri Secondary School Form Two student in Tarime District, Rhobi Nyangi ,16, told this reporter that a Form Four student at the same school, Johannes Chacha, 17, made her pregnant last year. He then asked the girl not reveal that he was responsible for the pregnancy so that he could continue and complete his studies, promising to marry her later.
When Johannes' father, Chacha Bugechele, got hold of the news that his son had impregnated a schoolmate, he chipped in and availed 250,000/= cash to support the girl during pregnancy until she delivers. He then promised to provide 50,000/= every month as expenses for the child and the mother.
The parents also promised to find a school for Rhobi to enable her continue with education after delivering. The agreement is said to have been made on April 12, 2010, under the mediation of the Tarime District Social Welfare office.
In the other case, a Mbogi Secondary School Form One student, also in Tarime District, Sabina Emanuel, 16, was forced out of school after her mother, Mwikwabe Ghati, allegedly ordered her to get married to an old man, the mother had met in Serengeti District.
Mwikwabe forced her daughter out of school before telling her to get married to the old man,a move that was meant to benefit Sabina's brother, Peter Ghati, who was planning to get married. The dowry paid for Sabina was the one Peter was to use to marry a wife of his choice. .
However, Sabina was courageous enough and refused to obey her mother's order because she preferred to continue with her education, but she was chased away from home. Her teachers then became good Samaritans as they offered her accommodation at her school hostels.
Sabina’s class teacher offered to escort her to the Tarime District Welfare Office, where she reported the matter and asked for support in form of school fees and accommodation expenses.
The district welfare office summoned Peter and Mwikwabe to report to the office but after getting the summons they ran away to Nyamilama Village in Serengeti District.
These are just but a tip of an iceberg in areas such as Tarime where students ' rights are sacrificed for parents' financial gains. In fact girl children are treated as second class citizens who don't have rights.
Commenting on measures to be taken to root out the outdated perceptions in the community regarding girls, the Tarime and Rorya Police Regional Criminal Investigations Officer (RCO), David Hiza, recommended educational and awareness campaigns to be carried out for the members of the community to know that children have rights too.
“These cultural practices are deep rooted in the community to such an extent that massive campaigns have to be conducted by different stakeholders to educate the community on the importance of education to girls, I believe they will slowly value education for girls instead of marrying them off,” the RCO added.